Newly Discovered Catalyst May Help Create a Hydrogen Economy to Replace Fossil Fuels

First Posted: Sep 15, 2015 11:39 AM EDT

Scientists have taken a step forward when it comes to creating hydrogen as fuel.  They've created a highly efficient catalyst that could ease the way to a hydrogen economy.

Hydrogen is usually produced by separating water with electrical power. While the water supply is essentially limitless, though, a major roadblock to a future "hydrogen economy" is the need for platinum or other expensive noble metals in the water-splitting devices. Noble metals resist oxidation and include many of the precious metals, such as gold.

Now, though, researchers have developed a hydrogen-making catalyst containing phosphorus and sulfur, which are both common elements. It also contains cobalt, which is a metal that's 1,000 times cheaper than platinum.

Catalysts reduce the energy needed to start a chemical reaction. In fact, the new catalyst is almost as efficient as platinum and likely shows the highest catalytic performance among the non-noble metal catalysts reported so far.

"One needs to consider the cost of the catalyst compared to the whole system," said Song Jin, one of the researchers, in a news release. "There's always a tradeoff: If you want to build the best electrolyzer, you still want to use platinum. If you are able to sacrifice a bit of performance are more concerned about the cost and scalability, you may use this new cobalt catalysts."

The new method could be huge in terms of tackling the global warming issue. By using hydrogen instead of fossil fuels, it may be possible to cut down the amount of greenhouse gases. This, in turn, may improve climate conditions across the world.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Materials.

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