Hydrogen fuel used in hydrogen fuel cells, as a replacement for natural gas, or even in an internal combustion engine, burns clean and emits zero carbon dioxide.
This is great news for those concerned about increasing carbon dioxide emissions, but the current-best method for generating hydrogen fuel isn’t very efficient. Electrolysis uses electricity to split water molecules [H2O] into oxygen and hydrogen gases [O2 and H2], but the power generated by the resulting gases is less than the electricity originally put into the electrolytic cell to begin with.
If the hydrogen fuel’s electricity is sourced from fossil fuels, then what’s the point? If the electricity is sourced from renewable energy, then by all means we need to improve the efficiency of the process, since there are carbon footprints associated with these sources as well.
Catalysts can improve the efficiency of electrolysis, but even this can be improved. The current-best catalyst, in terms of efficiency, is platinum, but is extremely expensive. Recently, we covered some research into cobalt catalysts, which are slightly less expensive due cobalt being more abundant.
Researchers at Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science [IACS] had also been investigating cobalt-graphite electrodes, but then switched to an even more abundant iron-based catalyst. Iron is produced about 26x more than cobalt, and about 13,500x more than platinum. Combined with cheap carbon electrodes, the iron catalyst generates hydrogen gas at a rate surpassing any known catalyst. Given the abundance and low cost of iron, hydrogen fuel generation could be more efficient and cheaper than ever. The new catalyst could also be used in hydrogen fuel cells to increase efficiency and reduce costs.