Silver electrode for electrochemical production of hydrogen

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Despite the world’s reliance on fossil fuels, their polluting and finite nature necessitates the development of clean and renewable energy sources to sustain humanity in the future. One alternative fuel source is hydrogen, the combustion of which yields nothing but water and energy. However, current systems developed to produce hydrogen are generally inefficient, limiting their use on the large industrial scale. Proton membrane exchanger (PEM) electrolysis electrochemically splits water to yield hydrogen gas but has poor efficiency and is limited by relatively low rate of hydrogen production and expensive platinum electrodes. To surmount both of their drawbacks, Oxford University researchers have developed morphologically-controlled silver nanoparticles as a replacement for platinum in PEM electrolysers, resulting in higher rates of hydrogen production at higher applied potentials. This development will significantly decrease the cost of PEM electrolyser electrodes and support the use of such systems in a large scale industrial environment.

Background

As a direct consequence of the ever-increasing world population, the fossil fuel energy supplies are not sufficient to meet the energy demands of the future. The release of green-house gases and other pollutants as a result of burning such fuels negatively effects the environment on a world-wide scale, resulting in global warming and damage to human health (amongst a multitude of deleterious effects on the environment as a whole).

However, there is a push towards renewable sources of energy, such as wind, solar, and geothermal options. Another alternative is hydrogen based systems, where the combustion of hydrogen yields only water and energy. However, as most hydrogen on earth is locked up in water, sourcing molecular hydrogen for this purpose remains a bottle neck in its wide-spread use as an alternative fuel.

The technology

Hydrogen can be produced through the electrochemical splitting of water with the use of proton membrane exchange (PEM) electrolysis. While such technique provide a sustainable solution for the production of pure hydrogen, the electrodes used in such systems often consist of platinum coated carbon supports, which due to the cost and rarity of platinum, has limited the use of PEM electrolysis in the large scale production of hydrogen fuels.

In order to address this limitation, researchers at Oxford University have developed a novel electrode support coating that replaces platinum with silver-nanoparticles.

Benefits of this technology include:

  • high rate of hydrogen production compared to traditional platinum/carbon electrodes as a result of the higher applied potentials
  • low-cost PEM electrolysis cathodes

Together these benefits will support further development of PEM electrolysers and increase the efficiency of large-scale hydrogen production from PEM electrolysers. Additional potential uses of the technology include the recycling of CO2 into methanol and green ammonia synthesis.

Commercialisation

The technology subject to a UK priority patent application with opportunity for international patent protection in the future. Oxford University Innovation is seeking industrial partners interested in further development of the technology.

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