Scientists develop electrode to efficiently produce hydrogen

In the search for materials to produce hydrogen quickly, cheaply and energy-efficiently, scientists have developed an electrode consisting of porous nickel that is electroplated. This creates a nickel-iron catalyst with which water is split.

Australian researchers’ research into the mesoporous material appeared online in Nature Communications on Tuesday. The electrode is made entirely of cheap, common materials, namely nickel and iron. The porous nickel is commercially available and has holes of about 200 micrometers in diameter. This material is then electroplated with the nickel-iron catalyst. This nickel-iron coating also has small holes, but then of around fifty nanometers.

Due to the holes in the nickel and those in the nickel-iron catalyst, the electrode has an enormous reaction surface. According to the researchers, the larger oxygen bubbles can escape more easily through the large holes. The small holes in the catalyst provide more contact surface with the water itself, so that the oxygen bubbles do not stick to the electrode, something that would cause many electrodes to react less efficiently.

If the system can indeed be deployed on an industrial scale, it is important to produce hydrogen using energy from renewable sources, such as solar or wind, so that any future fuel cells do not essentially need to be fueled with fossil energy, according to lead researcher Chuan Zhao in the press release on the UNSW site.