Water splittingScientists have created a single catalyst that could simplify the process of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen to produce clean energy.

The electrolytic film is a three-layer structure of nickel, graphene, and a compound of iron, manganese, and phosphorus. The foamy nickel gives the film a large surface, the conductive graphene protects the nickel from degrading and the metal phosphide carries out the reaction.

The team of scientists developed the film to overcome barriers that usually make a catalyst good for producing either oxygen or hydrogen, but not both simultaneously.

“Regular metals sometimes oxidize during catalysis,” says Kenton Whitmire, a professor of chemistry at Rice University. “Normally, a hydrogen evolution reaction is done in acid and an oxygen evolution reaction is done in base. We have one material that is stable whether it’s in an acidic or basic solution.”

The discovery builds upon the researchers’ creation of a simple oxygen-evolution catalyst revealed earlier this year. In that work, the team grew a catalyst directly on a semiconducting nanorod array that turned sunlight into energy for solar water splitting.


HydrogenHydrogen has many highly sought after qualities when it comes to clean energy sources. It is a simple element, high in energy, and produces nearly zero harmful emissions. However, while hydrogen is one of the most plentiful elements in the universe, it does not occur naturally as a gas. Instead, we find it combined with other elements, like oxygen in the form of water. For many researchers, water-splitting has been a way to isolate hydrogen for use in cars, houses, and other sustainable fuels.

But water-splitting requires an effective catalyst to speed up chemical reactions, while simultaneously preventing the gasses to recombine. Researchers from the DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory believe they may have the answer with the new development of a molybdenum coating that can potentially improve water-splitting.

“When you split water into hydrogen and oxygen, the gaseous products of the reaction are easily recombined back to water and it’s crucial to avoid this,” says Angel Garcia-Esparza, lead author of the study. “We discovered that a molybdenum-coated catalyst is capable of selectively producing hydrogen from water while inhibiting the back reactions of water formation.”


HydrogenNew research led by ECS Fellow John Turner, researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, demonstrates a pioneering, efficient way to make renewable hydrogen.

Hydrogen has many highly sought after qualities when he comes to clean energy sources. It is a simple element, high in energy, and produces almost zero pollution when burned. However, while hydrogen is one of the most plentiful elements in the universe, it doesn’t occur naturally as a gas – instead, it’s always combined with other elements. That’s where efforts in water-splitting come in.

If researchers can effectively split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen, new branches of hydrogen production could emerge.

Turner and his team are working on a method to boost the longevity of highly efficient photochatodes in photoelectrochemical water-splitting devices.

“Electrochemistry nowadays is really the key,” Turner told ECS during a podcast in 2015. “We have fuel cells, we have electrolyzers, and we have batteries. All of the things going on in transportation and storage, it all comes down to electrochemical energy conversion.”


Artificial photosynthesis has carved out a promising corner in renewable energy research in recent history. This novel process is solar-driven, harvesting renewable energy and storing in in chemical bonds. Breakthroughs in artificial photosynthesis could lead to the development of solar fuels that could potentially shift the energy infrastructure.

However, while many technological barriers have been surpassed in the advancement of artificial photosynthesis, there are still hurdles to overcome. However, a research team from Forschungszentrum Juelich believes they may have just taken a significant step forward in the advancement of this field.

In a recently published paper, the team of scientists state that they have developed the first complete and compact design for an artificial photosynthesis facility.

The artificial photosynthesis process was first investigated in the 1970s. In fact, ECS Fellow Allen J. Bard can be seen here discussing the process in 1983. But only recently has artificial photosynthesis began to garner larger amounts of attention from the scientific community as a whole.


A new collaborative study from Delft University and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) shows a highly-efficient, simple way to produce hydrogen through solar water-splitting at a low cost.

The team of researchers, including 2016 PRiME Plenary speaker Michael Graetzel, state that by using Earth-abundant catalysts and solar cells, effective water-splitting systems could sustainably produce affordable hydrogen.

Graetzel, known for his low-cost, high-efficiency solar cell that won him the 2010 Millennium Technology Grand Prize, helped lead the effort by separating the positive and negative electrodes using a bipolar membrane, leading to a simple yet effective new method.

Hydrogen economy

The technology behind water-splitting is essential in an economy shifting toward more hydrogen use as alternative fuels. While efficient methods of generating hydrogen do currently exist, the techniques used to produce the gas consume large amounts of fossil fuels.

Moving toward a hydrogen economy could help alleviate the effects of climate change, but only if the means used to produce the gas are also sustainable. This is where water-splitting comes in.


In an effort to move away from fossil fuels toward a renewable future, researchers have invested time and resources into developing hydrogen fuel. The most efficient way to create this sustainable fuel has been through water-splitting, but the process is not perfect. Now, researchers from MIT, the Skoltech Institute of Technology, and the University of Texas at Austin believe they may have made a breakthrough that could lead to the widespread adoption of water-splitting to produce hydrogen fuel.

The key discovery in the paper published in Nature Communications is the mobilization of oxygen atoms from the crystal surface of perovskite-oxide electrodes to participate in the formation of oxygen gas, which can speed up water-splitting reactions.

The breakthrough could be a crucial step in helping the energy infrastructure efficiently move away from traditional energy sources to renewables.

“The generation of oxygen from water remains a significant bottleneck in the development of water electrolyzers and also in the development of fuel cell and metal-air battery technologies,” said J. Tyler Mefford, current ECS member and lead author of the study.

But the new results didn’t come out of the woodwork. The data illustrates collaborative work across experimental and theoretical fields. The new work essentially explains over 40 years of theory and experiments, looking at why some approaches worked and others failed.

“If we could develop catalysts made with Earth-abundant materials that could reversibly and efficiently electrolyze water into hydrogen and oxygen, we could have affordable hydrogen generation from renewables — and with that, the possibility of electric cars that run on water with ranges similar to gas powered cars,” Mefford said.

Development to Boost Solar Cell Usage


A working cell from Switzer’s research, with gas evolution.
Image: Sam O’Keefe, Missouri S&T.

In order to satisfy growing energy demands, scientists are looking for ways to develop and deploy a broad range of alternative energy sources that can be both efficient and environmentally friendly. At Missouri University of Science and Technology, a team is working to make clean energy more accessible through the development of a cheap, simple way to split hydrogen and oxygen through a new electrodeposition method.

ECS member and head researcher in the project, Jay Switzer, believes that the new development will produce highly efficient solar cells. He and ECS student member James Hill predict the process will be able to effectively gather solar energy for use as fuel, further increasing the amount of hydrogen available for fuel usage.

“The work helps to solve the problem that solar energy is intermittent,” says Switzer. “Obviously, we cannot have the sun produce energy on one spot the entire day, but our process converts the energy into a form that is more easily stored.”

Electrodeposition for Hydrogen

This from Missouri University of Science and Technology:

Switzer and his team use silicon wafers to absorb solar energy. The silicon is submerged in water, with the front surface exposed to a solar energy simulator and the back surface covered in electrodes to conduct the energy. The silicon has cobalt nano-islands formed onto it using a process called electrodeposition.


Record-Breaking Energy Efficiency Levels

An interdisciplinary team has set a new record for direct solar water splitting efficiency. Surpassing the 17 year old record of 12.4 percent, the new achieved efficiency level of 14 percent guarantees a promising future for solar hydrogen production.

While the potential for renewable energy is available across the globe, the ability to harvest and store this energy is not. One solution to achieving global renewable energy is through artificial photosynthesis.

How to Power the Future

Much like organic photosynthesis, artificial photosynthesis coverts sunlight into chemical energy. This highly-researched concept also has the ability to be carried into semiconductor technology.

Essentially, researchers can take the sun’s electrical power and split water into oxygen and hydrogen with high energy density levels. This type of development has the potential to replace current fossil fuels and create a type of energy that does not emit harmful carbon dioxide.

The concept has not been utilized on a commercial level due to the high cost. However, this new development could raise the efficiency levels to a high enough percentage to make the process economically viable.

This from the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres:

Lead author Matthias May … processed and surveyed about one hundred samples in his excellent doctoral dissertation to achieve this. The fundamental components are tandem solar cells of what are known as III-V semiconductors. Using a now patented photo-electrochemical process, May could modify certain surfaces of these semiconductor systems in such a way that they functioned better in water splitting.


High Solar Efficiency Through Water-Splitting

Rice University researchers (clockwise from left) Chloe Doiron, Hossein Robatjazi, Shah Mohammad Bahauddin and Isabell Thomann.

Rice University researchers (clockwise from left) Chloe Doiron, Hossein Robatjazi, Shah Mohammad Bahauddin and Isabell Thomann.

A team from Rice University, led by assistant professor and ECS member Isabell Thomann, has demonstrate a highly efficient way to harness energy from the sun though the splitting of water molecules.

Through the configuration of light-activated gold nanoparticles, the team was able to successfully harvest and transfer energy to what the scientists refer to as “hot electrons.”

“Hot electrons have the potential to drive very useful chemical reactions, but they decay very rapidly, and people have struggled to harness their energy,” said Thomann. “For example, most of the energy losses in today’s best photovoltaic solar panels are the result of hot electrons that cool within a few trillionths of a second and release their energy as wasted heat.”

If the hot electrons could be capture before they have the opportunity to cool, society could be seeing a significant increase to energy conversion efficiencies.


ECS’s Nate Lewis is propelling his vision of efficient and affordable alternative energy sources with the new development of an “artificial leaf” system that splits water through solar energy to create hydrogen fuel.

(PS: Make sure to catch Nate Lewis’ presentation this October at the fifth international Electrochemical Energy Summit held during the 228th ECS Meeting!)

“This new system shatters all of the combined safety, performance, and stability records for artificial leaf technology by factors of 5 to 10 or more,” says Lewis, a 33-year ECS member and scientific director of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis.

Shattering Water Splitting Records

He and his team, including postdoctoral scholar and ECS member Ke Sun, were able to achieve recording-setting outcomes through the development of a advice with three novel components: two electrodes, one photoanode and one photocathode, and a membrane.

This from Futurity:

The photoanode uses sunlight to oxidize water molecules, generating protons and electrons as well as oxygen gas. The photocathode recombines the protons and electrons to form hydrogen gas.


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