CHICAGO, ILLINOIS — Researchers at the University of Illinois (UI) have developed a new catalyst that may have cleared the obstacles of abundance, stability in acid conditions and efficiency in generating hydrogen in a sustainable way.
The catalyst is an electrocatalytic material made from mixing metal compounds with substance called perchloric acid.
The researchers first experimented with the procedure for making this new material by using different acids and heating temperatures to increase the rate of the water-splitting reaction.
The researchers found that when they used perchloric acid as a catalyst and let the mixture react under heat, the physical nature of the yttrium ruthenate product changed.
“The material became more porous and also had a new crystalline structure, different from all the solid catalysts we made before,” said Jaemin Kim, the lead author and a postdoctoral researcher. The new porous material the team developed, a pyrochlore oxide of yttrium ruthenate, can split water molecules at a higher rate than the current industry standard.
The researchers looked at the structure of the new material with an electron microscope and found that it is four times more porous than the original yttrium ruthenate they developed in a previous study, and three times that of the iridium and ruthenium oxides used commercially.
“It was surprising to find that the acid we chose as a catalyst for this reaction turned out to improve the structure of the material used for the electrodes,” said Hong Yang, co-author and professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Illinois.
In the next step, the researchers will fabricate a laboratory-scale device for further testing and to continue to improve the porous electrode stability in acidic environments.
“Stability of the electrodes in acid will always be a problem, but we feel that we have come up with something new and different when compared with other work in this area,” Yang said. “This type of research will be quite impactful regarding hydrogen generation for sustainable energy in the future.”
The study has been published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.