Electrocatalysis may play a significant role in the evolution of more sustainable energy in the future. Chemist Isis Ledezma Yanez, who will be defending her doctoral thesis on the 9th of June, provides a clear picture on the hydrogen evolution process.
Western countries are slowly and steadily moving towards more sustainable energy sources, and if the government heads in this way, nearly 8 million households will get windmill-generated energy by 2023.
However, there are several obstacles that need to be overcome before achieving this goal, and one such obstacle is the difficulty in storing energy. Since windmills also rotate at night when energy use is low, it is important to resolve the energy storage problem.
Electrocatalysis may play a vital role in identifying a solution for more sustainable energy in the future. One possible way is to use the surplus energy for dividing water into oxygen and hydrogen in electrolyzers to store energy as chemical bonds. When this bond between the protons beaks, the energy which is stored is discharged again and can be utilized in hybrid vehicles.
Role of the solvent
Recently, a lot of studies on electrocatalysis have been carried out by chemists and in particularly on the function of the catalyst that triggers the chemical reaction by reducing the energy barrier for the effect to take place. Platinum-based electrocatalyst is known to be most effective to date, but not much is known about the function of the solvent involved in the catalytic process.
In her thesis, Ledezma Yanez said that it is extremely hard to evaluate the effectiveness of various molecular electrocatalysts in non-aqueous solvents due to the existence of water traces. The image is disrupted by the water wherein the protons are selectively dissolved. These protons can easily bind to the water when compared to other solvent, making it unfeasible to assess ‘pure’ protons and thus impacting the precision of the measurement. Therefore, the function of solvent is much more significant than it was earlier thought.
Ledezma Yanez also designed a novel kinetic model that describes how the energy meant for reorganizing the water affects the rate of the hydrogen evolution, which is considered to be more important for developing low-cost electrolyzers that can use elements that are abundantly available on Earth such as iron and nickel. This process may help avoid unnecessary energy losses and resolve a long-known mystery in the realm of electrochemistry.