Hydrogen is known to have the potential to become an important source of energy. And there’s an abundant supply of it, in our water, if we can just find a low-cost, efficient way of getting the oxygen in H2O to let go of it. The University of Houston (UH) has just announced that they may have just found it.
Splitting the hydrogen and oxygen in water is accomplished using a process called “water electrolysis” in which both the hydrogen and oxygen molecules separate into individual gasses via separate “evolution reactions.” Each evolution reaction is induced by an electrode in the presence of a catalyst.
Water can also be split using photocatalysis that uses solar power directly instead of electricity, but it’s less efficient since water only absorbs a small range of the light spectrum.
It’s been the lack of an efficient, low-cost catalyst for the oxygen molecules that’s been holding the full-scale extraction of hydrogen back. Up until now, oxygen catalysts have been based on scarce, expensive “noble” metals such as iridium, platinum, or ruthenium.
This is a problem that has been thwarting the full-scale commercial extraction of hydrogen for energy for some time, and UH isn’t the only entity searching for a replacement. Just last spring, the Canadian Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the University of Toronto announced the discovery of a new oxygen…