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Daniel Nocera Coming Back With Better Material for Splitting Water


Daniel Nocera, a face we see more and more often on the stage of alternative energy, along with postdoctoral researcher Mircea Dinca and graduate student Yogesh Surendranath, discovered a material that can work efficiently and sustainably as an oxygen electrode for Nocera’s wider research in water splitting by using electricity.

This subject has caught a lot of attention, and Nocera got funding from the National Science Foundation and the Chesonis Family Foundation to continue his work started in 2008.

Splitting water with electricity could be a very important milestone in the development of self-sufficient and reliable sources of alternative energy. The hydrogen from water can store the excess energy that solar or wind sources produce, also being the cleanest fuel ever found.

At first, Nocera and his team used platinum as the electrode for hydrogen, but things have changed since. Now, they are using a cheaper material for the hydrogen electrode (that has not yet been officially unveiled), and have also discovered a new material for the oxygen-emitting electrode: nickel borate. It can be made very cheaply, and even cheaper than cobalt, as Nocera says: “”This is a door opener. Now, we know what works in terms of chemistry. One of the important next things will be to continue to tune the system, to make it go faster and better. This puts us on a fast technological path.” While the two compounds discovered so far work well, he says, he is convinced that as they carry out further research even better compounds will come to light. “I don’t think we’ve found the silver bullet yet,” he says.

The research, now in its early stage, is still able to produce 100 times more hydrogen than the original one did back in 2008. Taking into account the replacement of platinum as a catalyst, we can say that Nocera advanced a lot with his findings, and he is on the right track.

The company he founded, Sun Catalytix, has the aim of commercializing the efficient electrolyzer within two the next two years and has been granted funding by U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (DARPA-E).

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