Thursday, May 13, 2010

New Inexpensive Catalyst for Hydrogen Production

This is a really promising development in the hydrogen production problem that has thwarted researchers for decades.  The process appears to be very fast, though we do not have answers here in terms of energy efficiencies.   It would be a boon to be able to store production energy in the form of free hydrogen that worked with low overhead.

Hydrogen is convenient as a fuel either through fuel cells or even heat engines simply because it is the fastest reaction.  It just has to be made cheaply and conveniently for it to be used.

No one wants to put in a dollar worth of energy and then get only fifty cents returned.  The present hydrogen cycle ends up been something like that.  Getting that down to a few cents would make it the storage media of choice even if it presents real handling problems that would confine it to a pipeline system at least and short range.

I have also never seen any thought given to use of high volumes of the co product which is pure oxygen.  Metallurgy looks a lot different in a free oxygen environment and may be far superior for some present processes.

This hopefully is one step closer to a viable hydrogen handling and production system.  All the hoopla several years ago left me completely cold simply because I knew hydrogen production was not yet in the cards and that it was not for lack of serious effort.

Renewable Energy: Inexpensive Metal Catalyst Can Effectively Generate Hydrogen from Water

ScienceDaily (May 1, 2010) — Hydrogen would command a key role in future renewable energy technologies, experts agree, if a relatively cheap, efficient and carbon-neutral means of producing it can be developed. An important step towards this elusive goal has been taken by a team of researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California, Berkeley. The team has discovered an inexpensive metal catalyst that can effectively generate hydrogen gas from water.

From left, Jeffrey Long, Christopher Chang and Hemamala Karunadasa have discovered an inexpensive metal that can generate hydrogen from neutral water, even if it is dirty, and can operate in sea water. (Credit: Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt, Berkeley Lab Public Affairs)

"Our new proton reduction catalyst is based on a molybdenum-oxo metal complex that is about 70 times cheaper than platinum, today's most widely used metal catalyst for splitting the water molecule," said Hemamala Karunadasa, one of the co-discoverers of this complex. "In addition, our catalyst does not require organic additives, and can operate in neutral water, even if it is dirty, and can operate in sea water, the most abundant source of hydrogen on earth and a natural electrolyte. These qualities make our catalyst ideal for renewable energy and sustainable chemistry."

Karunadasa holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab's Chemical Sciences Division and UC Berkeley's Chemistry Department. She is the lead author of a paper describing this work that appears in the April 29, 2010 issue of the journal Nature, titled "A molecular molybdenum-oxo catalyst for generating hydrogen from water." Co-authors of this paper were Christopher Chang and Jeffrey Long, who also hold joint appointments with Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley. Chang, in addition, is also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

Hydrogen gas, whether combusted or used in fuel cells to generate electricity, emits only water vapor as an exhaust product, which is why this nation would already be rolling towards a hydrogen economy if only there were hydrogen wells to tap. However, hydrogen gas does not occur naturally and has to be produced. Most of the hydrogen gas in the United States today comes from natural gas, a fossil fuel. While inexpensive, this technique adds huge volumes of carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Hydrogen can also be produced through the electrolysis of water -- using electricity to split molecules of water into molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. This is an environmentally clean and sustainable method of production -- especially if the electricity is generated via a renewable technology such as solar or wind -- but requires a water-splitting catalyst.

Nature has developed extremely efficient water-splitting enzymes -- called hydrogenases -- for use by plants during photosynthesis, however, these enzymes are highly unstable and easily deactivated when removed from their native environment. Human activities demand a stable metal catalyst that can operate under non-biological settings.
Metal catalysts are commercially available, but they are low valence precious metals whose high costs make their widespread use prohibitive. For example, platinum, the best of them, costs some $2,000 an ounce.

"The basic scientific challenge has been to create earth-abundant molecular systems that produce hydrogen from water with high catalytic activity and stability," Chang says. "We believe our discovery of a molecular molybdenum-oxo catalyst for generating hydrogen from water without the use of additional acids or organic co-solvents establishes a new chemical paradigm for creating reduction catalysts that are highly active and robust in aqueous media."

The molybdenum-oxo complex that Karunadasa, Chang and Long discovered is a high valence metal with the chemical name of (PY5Me2)Mo-oxo. In their studies, the research team found that this complex catalyzes the generation of hydrogen from neutral buffered water or even sea water with a turnover frequency of 2.4 moles of hydrogen per mole of catalyst per second.

Long says, "This metal-oxo complex represents a distinct molecular motif for reduction catalysis that has high activity and stability in water. We are now focused on modifying the PY5Me ligand portion of the complex and investigating other metal complexes based on similar ligand platforms to further facilitate electrical charge-driven as well as light-driven catalytic processes. Our particular emphasis is on chemistry relevant to sustainable energy cycles."

This research was supported in part by the DOE Office of Science through Berkeley Lab's Helios Solar Energy Research Center, and in part by a grant from the National science Foundation.


Unknown said...

sorry, lame.
i have a hydrogen generator in my car engine right now.
boosts power, cleans emissions and also increases mileage 20-30%

Seaim said...

ooops - someone probably should have done the research on past experiments. Molybdenum was used for this process in Europe and published in 1998, making it public domain. But hey! 12 years later (when the smoke cleared at the Berkeley lab and they put away the bong) - they discovered it too! Congratulations Berkeley - go team.