Copying Bacteria Magic Could Yield Cheap Hydrogen Catalyst
To drive down the cost of making hydrogen, and make it a competitive fuel, researchers are trying to find catalysts that are cheap and enduring enough for the job. Princeton chemistry professor Annabella Selloni and her team take inspiration from bacteria that make hydrogen from water, using enzymes called di-iron hydrogenases
To figure out how to incorporate the magic of these enzymes into the design of practical synthetic catalysts, that humans can use to produce hydrogen from water, they used computer models. A problem was that the catalysts designed at first were "suicidal", because they could not survive the oxygen that they produced necessarily during the reaction, splitting water in its two components.
By modifying the catalyst to improve the stability of the structure in water, the researchers found that they had also created a catalyst that is tolerant to oxygen without sacrificing efficiency.
The artificial catalyst could also be made from abundant and cheap components, such as iron, indicating that the catalyst could be a cost-effective way of producing hydrogen - that is, if actual experiments turn out successful.
Because until this point, the researchers at Princeton University and Rutgers University conducted their research in silico - that is, using computer modeling. The goal is to learn enough about how these catalysts work to someday create working catalysts that can make vast quantities of inexpensive hydrogen for use in vehicles and electricity production.