Study Shows Ultrathin Porous Catalysts Could Convert Water into Fuel

Professor Huijun Zhao, Director of Griffith's Centre for Clean Environment and Energy (Credit: Griffith University)

Researchers at Griffith University continue to lead the way in harnessing renewable energy sources that not only promise to be the next generation of clean fuel, but also hold potential for improved solar conversion and energy storage devices.

The study shows that an ultrathin catalyst can be used to split water into its two components such as hydrogen and oxygen, which can be subsequently converted to be used as a fuel. The results of the study have reported in the paper, titled Ultrathin metal–organic framework nanosheets for electrocatalytic oxygen evolution, published in Nature Energy.

Although this method can be used to split water from the scientific point of view, highly efficient ultrathin catalysts are critical to moving the system to an economically viable one.

According to Professor Huijin Zhao, the Director of Griffith’s Centre for Clean Environment and Energy (CCEE), just like solar light that produces electricity, the water splitting process could perform the same function through hydrogen generation. Hydrogen is a clean chemical fuel.

The world is now facing five major issues for humanity – energy, environment, water, food security and public health. Global warming is ranked first and it’s all resulting from burning fossil fuels because that’s where carbon dioxide comes from. To reduce this and to make the global temperature not rise beyond 2C you have to find clean, renewable energy and hydrogen equals clean energy. It’s part of the solution – if we really can split water into two that will be one scientific solution for the future of sustainable energy supplies.

Professor Huijin Zhao, Griffith University

Prof Zhao added that hydrogen would be a promising clean fuel over petrol in the near future.

Scientifically it’s already demonstrated, it’s already working but to do this in a way that’s economically viable, there’s still a bit of work to do and we need government policy, general public support, and you also need those big companies to realise they should not dig up out of the ground anymore,” he said.

“It’s not just a simple technology issue.”

Prof Zhao also sits within the Environmental Futures Research Institute and recently received $401,000 in the Australian Research Council Projects for 2017 for 2D-Nanoporous Structured High Performance Gas Evolution Electrocatalysts.

While heterogeneous electrocatalytic gas evolution reactions can be important for clean energy generation and storage technologies, their efficiencies are considerably limited by high overpotentials caused by slow gaseous products detachment from the surface of the catalyst.

Overpotentials represent the additional energy needed to cause a chemical reaction. When overpotential is higher, energy consumption will also be higher.

The aim of this research is to address this important problem by developing new 2D ultrathin porous electro catalysts that have low overpotentials and excellent gas detachment properties. The result of this study will provide a good scientific basis to design and create high-performance electrocatalysts for producing fuel gas.

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