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Researchers find way to double efficiency of water electrolysis

Claim it’s a step towards use of surplus electricity for hydrogen production and climate-friendly energy conversion

| | Mar 12, 2016 | 11:55 am
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Munich, Germany: Explaining that water electrolysis has not yet established itself as a method for the production of hydrogen, as considerable amount of energy is lost in the process, Technical University of Munich (TUM), has announced that a team of researchers from TUM, the Ruhr University Bochum and Leiden University, has found a way to obviate the challenge and come up with a method to double the efficiency of the reaction.

Pointing out that typically, platinum is applied as catalyst, in order to accelerate the conversion of water to hydrogen and oxygen, and that for the reaction to be as efficient as possible, intermediates must adhere neither too strongly nor too weakly at the catalyst surface, the team headed by Prof Aliaksandr Bandarenka from the Department of Physics of Energy Conversion and Storage in Munich, and Prof Wolfgang Schuhmann from the Center for Electrochemical Sciences in Bochum, has now calculated how strongly intermediates must adhere to the electrodes, in order to most efficiently facilitate the reaction, the announcement elaborated.

The researchers, said TUM, modified the properties of the platinum catalyst surface by applying a layer of copper atoms, resulting in the system generating twice the amount of hydrogen than with a pure platinum electrode, but only if the researchers applied the copper layer directly under the top layer of the platinum atoms. They reportedly observed another useful side effect: The copper layer extended the service life of the electrodes, for example, by rendering them more corrosion-resistant.

Highlighting how water electrolysis could be powered by surplus electricity, Prof Schuhmann said: “To date, hydrogen has been mainly obtained from fossil fuels, with large CO2 volumes being released in the process. If we succeeded in obtaining hydrogen by using electrolysis instead, it would be a huge step towards climate-friendly energy conversion. For this purpose, we could utilise surplus electricity, for example generated by wind power.”

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