The substance can be used to solve the two most highly discussed issues in the field of renewable energy- hydrogen production and solar energy storage.
Production of pure hydrogen is a widely spread practice, which benefits quite a number of industries from agriculture all the way to petroleum refining. Currently, the process involves the use of a catalysts, most commonly platinum, to extract the gas from water through electrolysis. But platinum is the most expensive metal on the market right now, meaning that any attempt to scale up the generation of hydrogen via this process to an industrial level is quite a luxury.
In a parallel universe, not so far from hydrogen production, engineers are struggling with another major problem, this time related to solar energy. As great as all advances in solar cells development can be, energy storage still remains a major set back, resulting in a huge amount of electricity being wasted.
A team of chemical engineers at Stanford University decided to search for a common solution to both problems. Inspired by petrochemical plants, they conducted an experiment which involved splitting of the water molecule through electrolysis in a cost-effective manner, while at the same time use this process to store solar.
In the study published in the latest issue of the journal Angewandte Chemie, the lead authors Professor Thomas Jaramillo and research associate Jakob Kibsgaard, describe how a modification of molybdenum phosphide can replace platinum as a catalysts, making the process of hydrogen production much cheaper and more efficient. Their new catalysts was produced by adding sulfur atoms to make the very effective and stable molybdenum phosphosulfide.
In addition, the scientists describe how the system that produces hydrogen through electrolysis can also function as energy storage. To be more precise, solar power can break the water molecule into atoms of hydrogen and oxygen at day time, while at night, the two elements can be combined and generate power.
The new catalysts definitely sets the base for exciting new research and development of eco-friendly energy strategies.
Image (c) Stanford University