Scientists 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.