There have been many researchers seeking the perfect catalyst for dissociating water into hydrogen and oxygen. Xile Hu and his team from the EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) in Switzerland have recently tinkered with a cheap catalyst made from molybdenum.
Electrolysis is the process by which hydrogen is extracted. Though it’s a slow and energy intensive process in its original form (DC current applied to water), electrolysis is still fundamental for splitting water. Hu found that molybdenum sulphides, also found in large quantities in nature, can help produce hydrogen much cheaply.
Hu and his team discovered the molybdenum sulphides by mistake, while experimenting for another project. “It’s a perfect illustration of the famous serendipity principle in fundamental research”, as Xile Hu emphasizes: “Thanks to this unexpected result, we’ve revealed a unique phenomenon”, he explains. “But we don’t yet know exactly why the catalysts are so efficient.”
Daniel Nocera’s research is far more advanced, though, as he has already signed a contract with Tata, India’s largest technology manufacturer and investor, for the production of an electrolysis catalyst capable of powering the entire planet with the energy contained in a water-filled pool.
Anyway, combining the research and experience of various worldwide discoveries can eventually lead to a better technology to be used for water splitting. Let’s remember that the now famous dye-sensitized, organic solar cells have EPFL as their birthplace.