The new catalyst improves the efficiency of hydrogen production from water splitting without incurring high costs
Hydrogen, a clean fuel, can be produced sustainably by electrocatalytic water splitting, a process where the water molecule is split into oxygen and hydrogen gas using electricity. However, the need for expensive and rare metal catalysts make the process unfeasible for large-scale industrial use. In this study, Chung-Ang University researchers develop an inexpensive catalyst composed of a transition metal hydroxide-sulfide heterostructure that makes for highly efficient overall water splitting.
Hydrogen fuel cells produce clean electricity, generating only water as a byproduct. Developing efficient and inexpensive catalysts with improved performance in hydrogen production from water splitting is, therefore, imperative. Now, researchers from Chung-Ang University make use of metal–organic frameworks and transition metal hydroxides to this end.
Image credit: AC Transit hydrogen fuel cell bus by Eric Fischer
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Concerns about rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and global warming have made it an environmental imperative to replace fossil fuels with cleaner and more sustainable alternatives. In this regard, hydrogen, a clean energy source, has emerged as an excellent potential candidate.
Among the several methods available for hydrogen generation, splitting water using electricity in presence of a catalyst, or “electrocatalytic water splitting,” as it is called, is the cleanest. Unfortunately, the process requires expensive and rare noble metal catalysts, such as platinum, to maintain a reasonable efficiency. This, in turn, has limited its large-scale industrial applications.
A relatively inexpensive option is transition metal-based catalysts, such as oxides, sulfides, hydroxides of cobalt, nickel, iron etc. However, there is a catch: the electrocatalytic water splitting consists of two half-reactions, namely the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) and the oxygen evolution reaction (OER). In OER, water molecules are oxidized to form oxygen and positive hydrogen ions at the anode (positively charged electrode). The hydrogen ions then move across the electrolyte to the cathode (the negatively charged electrode), where they are reduced to produce hydrogen (HER). It turns out that most transition metal-based catalysts reported so far can only catalyze either HER or OER. This makes for a complicated configuration and a higher overall cost.
Against this backdrop, researchers from Chung-Ang University in Korea developed, in a new study, a novel heterostructured catalyst consisting of hollow cobalt sulfide (CoSx) and nickel-iron (NiFe) layered double hydroxide (LDH) nanosheets that simultaneously boosts both the half-reactions. This paper was made available online on 15 March 2022 and was published in Volume 18 Issue 16 of the journal Small on 16 April 2022.
“A reasonable strategy for fabricating highly efficient catalysts for water splitting is to elaborately integrate OER-active NiFe LDH and HER-active catalysts into a heterostructure,” explains Assistant Professor Seung-Keun Park, who headed the study. “Given their high surface area and open structure, hollow HER catalysts are believed to be ideal for this job. It turns out that metal – organic frameworks (MOFs) are an efficient precursor for fabricating hollow structures. However, an MOF-based hollow catalyst with NiFe LDH has not be reported so far.”
Accordingly, the researchers electrochemically deposited NiFe LDH nanosheets in a controlled manner on the surface of hollow CoSx nanoarrays supported on nickel foam. “The integration of an active HER catalyst, CoSx and an OER catalyst, NiFe LDH, guarantees a superior bifunctional catalytic activity,” says Dr. Park.
And indeed, the catalyst was able to consistently deliver a high current density of 1000 mA cm-2 in both half-reactions at low cell voltages, suggesting its feasibility for industrial scale water-splitting applications. The researchers attributed this to the presence of ample active sites on the catalyst heterostructure, which enabled electrolyte penetration and gas release during the reactions. Additionally, an electrolyzer based on this catalyst demonstrated a high current density of 300 mA cm-2 at a low cell voltage and a durability of 100 hours in overall water splitting.
“The enhanced electrocatalytic properties of our catalyst is likely due to its unique hierarchical heterostructure and the synergy between its components. We believe that our work will take us one step closer towards realizing a zero emission society,” says an optimistic Dr. Park.
And we hope we are not far!
Yun Jae Lee and Seung-Keun Park
Title of original paper
Metal–Organic Framework-Derived Hollow CoSx Nanoarray
Coupled with NiFe Layered Double Hydroxides as Efficient
Bifunctional Electrocatalyst for Overall Water Splitting
Chung-Ang University, Republic of Korea
About Chung-Ang University
Chung-Ang University is a private comprehensive research university located in Seoul, South Korea. It was started as a kindergarten in 1916 and attained university status in 1953. It is fully accredited by the Ministry of Education of Korea. Chung-Ang University conducts research activities under the slogan of “Justice and Truth.” Its new vision for completing 100 years is “The Global Creative Leader.” Chung-Ang University offers undergraduate, postgraduate, and doctoral programs, which encompass a law school, management program, and medical school; it has 16 undergraduate and graduate schools each. Chung-Ang University’s culture and arts programs are considered the best in Korea.
About Assistant Professor Seung-Keun Park
Seung-Keun Park is currently an Assistant Professor at the Department of Advanced Materials Engineering at Chung-Ang University, Korea. He received his Ph.D. (2016) in Convergence Science from Seoul National University and completed his postdoctoral training at Korea University. His research group is developing novel approaches to precise designing of nanostructured materials for energy storage and conversion applications. Dr. Park has published over 80 papers in reputed, peer-reviewed journals. Currently, he has a total ISI citation of over 3900 and an h-index of 35 (Google Scholar).