hydrogen breakthrough

This article is soooo very exciting to me on a personal and professional level as I have been tinkering with ‘water splitting’ for years now with limited success. I can still remember making a very crude experiment for university out of some metal plates, a plastic tub and wire but unlike universities I had no way of measuring or for that matter capturing the gas effectively, so I opted to use a 600ml drink bottle. I could see the gas bubbling in the water but as the water was heating up I wanted to ensure I was actually collecting Hydrogen instead of steam and what better way to test it than passing it over a flame. Well let’s just say that I did confirm I was indeed collecting hydrogen and so did my neighbors as the bottle exploded out of my hand across the room.

Hydrogen is just about the cleanest fuel in the world and considering it’s the most abundant element in the universe also a good way to fuel everything from our homes to spaceships as the only exhaust it produces when used is good old H2O.

Hydrogen makes up an estimated 74% of matter in the Universe
Hydrogen makes up an estimated 74% of matter in the Universe

A simple way to produce hydrogen is electrolysis, which uses electric current to split hydrogen and oxygen atoms in water molecules apart. To do that, researchers stick two metal plates connected to a power source into pure water. When electricity passes through the plates, called electrodes, hydrogen appears at the cathode and oxygen at the anode.

Until now, scientists have had to use precious metals like platinum for the electrodes, because these metals conduct electricity efficiently and do not decay easily in water but the prohibitive cost of such metals limits the technology’s application in large-scale industrial processes. Older methods use less precious metals but require a catalyst in the water to split the molecules apart and there is even an example of this you have seen before or maybe even have in your backyard. Salt water pools work by using the salt in the water as the catalyst and when the water is passed through a series of metals plates the process of electrolysis is used to produce chlorine gas which is then mixed into the water.

simple electrolysis system
simple electrolysis system


But now, a team has found a cheaper alternative: nickel metal coated with nickel oxide and attached to carbon nanotubes. Using the nickel electrodes, the team made a water splitter that runs on an ordinary 1.5-volt battery. As of now, the electrodes lasts only days in water, but the researchers hope to improve the material and save hydrogen producers billions of dollars.

So I personally can’t wait for this material to become available so I can test it out for myself in my nefarious science schemes and I promise I will won’t blow anything up this time, honest.

Stay Curious – C.Costigan

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