Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison claim a cheap catalyst could finally bring hydrogen economy. High costs were considered one of the major setbacks for hydrogen economy, but scientists think they can develop a cheap catalyst that will significantly reduce the costs for hydrogen fuel.
Fossil fuels are incredibly noxious for the environment; hence, researchers’ efforts to replace them with hydrogen-based fuels. The latter can also help preserve water supplies which are said to diminish every year.
Hydrogen fuel is, nevertheless, hard to produce as the required technology is also very expensive. Most catalysts that are used to draw hydrogen from water are made out of noble metals. Platinum, gold, palladium and iridium are not only very good electricity conducers, but they also prevent oxidation.
Yet, they are incredibly expensive and the production of hydrogen fuel would be too costly for developers to support it. Not according to Song Jin, chemistry expert at the University of Wisonsin-Madison, who claims he has invented a cheap catalyst.
After years of research, Jin has finally discovered the best replacement for expensive noble metals. His catalyst is based on phosphorus, sulfur and cobalt. This alloy can resist oxidation and separate hydrogen from water much in the same way as expensive metals do.
The previous experiments saw the replacement of iron with cobalt pyrite. Jin has chosen these particular materials because they are very good for energy transformation. After various other trials, the researchers have replaced pyrite with phosphorus; thus, obtaining an even better result.
In addition to the cheaper materials, Jin believes hydrogen fuels could become cheaper if the electricity that is used to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen is taken from the sunlight. For this purpose, the new catalysts should have to be solar-powered. By replacing expensive catalysts with cheaper versions, it will be easier to recharge the system with sunlight because the used materials are much more efficient.
The new catalyst has been immediately patented by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), but there are still many questions left unanswered in relation to its functionality. The cheaper catalyst may reduce some costs for hydrogen fuel, but the entire system is still very expensive, Jin has explained. Moreover, hydrogen fuel must be used on a very large scale in order for results to be visible.
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