Scientists Split Water for Less; Cheap Hydrogen on the WayHydrogen fuel is often touted as the future of automobiles, but it suffers from one very troubling problem: actually getting hydrogen is exceedingly difficult. But scientists might have finally managed to create a nanomaterial capable of breaking water down into hydrogen and oxygen using common, easily obtained metals.
Water does not like to be broken apart. We can do it, but the two most common methods either release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere or requires platinum, a rare earth metal that there just isn’t that much of on this planet.
Liquid water and ice structures
Platinum acts as a catalyst for the water. When a current is run through it, hydrogen can be liberated from the atomic structure that holds it in place. It is also very rare. The new nanomaterial, meanwhile, can do it using only common metals. It uses nickel, using an arrangement that makes the nickel act similarly to how platinum does. That makes the entire process cheaper and less energy intensive.
The breakthrough is thanks to the US Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. They developed a novel electrocatalyst that can break apart water with very little energy. Actually, the scientists who developed the material were surprised at just how efficient the entire process was. Said the scientist who originally conceived of the idea behind the material, Brookhaven Lab chemist Kotaro Sasaki:
"We wanted to design an optimal catalyst with high activity and low costs that could generate hydrogen as a high-density, clean energy source. We discovered this exciting compound that actually outperformed our expectations."Hydrogen is an ideal energy source. It is readily available in water, one of the most plentiful compounds on our planet. But in order to make hydrogen fuel worthwhile, the energy that goes into liberating it from the water has to be as low as possible. Before this nanomaterial, the return on energy investment has been nearly 1 to 1. This material could change everything.