A consortium involving three universities has devised an atomically dispersed platinum catalyst that could be of use in future hydrogen production systems. Maria Flytzani-Stephanopoulos from Tufts University and Manos Mavrikakis from the University of Wisconsin-Madison published their research in today’s Science journal.
The newly-invented catalyst is an alternative to copper, which can under certain situations ignite spontaneously. The dispersed platinum approach is much more stable and more active as a catalyst than copper and is more efficient in hydrogen purification from carbon residues. Usually, hydrogen is purified by a reaction called “water-gas-shift”, which removes carbon monoxide from the hydrogen resulting from fossil fuels (such as CNG).
The purification comes as a need for hydrogen fuel cells, which can contaminate with carbon, which is deadly for them.
Although platinum is among the most expensive catalytic materials, the new catalyst contains only trace amounts of platinum, yet is robust and effective at low temperatures. Essentially, its structure is a series of small “clusters” comprising only a few atoms, each in a specific arrangement. Each cluster is composed of one or a few a platinum atoms surrounded by a mixture of oxygen, hydroxyl and potassium atoms and is “seated” on the standard aluminum or silica support.
I think gas reforming will be an outdated method of producing hydrogen within a few years, just because an older one will kick in: electrolysis. This one can obtain hydrogen from water without the hassle of extracting fossil fuels from beneath the soil and without having to worry about where the carbon compounds go. And no purification will be necessary.
Still, the value of this research is that it’s helping others find more efficient ways to perform electrolysis. Daniel Nocera from the MIT is intensely preoccupied with this subject.