For a time now, science is trying to come up with a synonymously yet cleaner technology that uses hydrogen, and that would replace the one existing and using fossil fuel. It has done significant steps in that direction. But it is still far from the point where the new catalysts needed to make hydrogen become the new fuel, clean energy, are cheap and reliable enough.
The problems seem to be the oxygen reduction reaction and oxygen evolution reaction, two chemical processes that impair hydrogen’s capacity to become a stable fuel.
For this reason, the clean energy catalysts used so far have components made of platinum and iridium. Although needed for clean powering vehicles and power generation, for clean hydrogen production, and high-capacity metal-air batteries, the technology is yet too expensive.
Scientists invented cheap and reliable catalysts for clean energy
Scientists at Aalto University in Finland and Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France worked on revolutionary research hoping to find the material they would replace platinum and iridium in the catalysts with earth-abundant and cheaper materials such as carbon and nitrogen. And the good news is that they seem to be very close to it.
There is a branch in catalysis science called single-atom catalysts (SACs). Catalysis is the science that increases a chemical reaction by using the atomic power of a chemical compound called a catalyst. This is what platinum and iridium do for hydrogen to become fuel. Researchers at Aalto worked to find a way to make nitrogen or carbon to become the single-atom catalyst instead.
The secret ingredient proved to be the porosity of the underlying substrate where the catalyst is deposited. Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique helped the team of researchers at Aalto produce a highly porous graphene-carbon nanotube hybrid. The porosity of the substrate allows the carbon to adhere is sites that expand its catalytic quality.
The study is yet to become a mass technology, but scientists hope it will become the reason for further research that will help clean energy become the only energy we use.