Cambridge Scientists Progress Toward Sustainable Hydrogen Production

Several major automakers have hydrogen fuel cell projects in the works, with initial roll out of pilot fleets already underway and others scheduled by various companies for subsequent years, but all of them have significant cost and sustainability considerations yet to overcome.

This week scientists in Cambridge were encouraged by crossing a milestone toward one aspect of the chicken and egg problem, the need for a sustainable and cost-effective source for hydrogen (H2).

Using a cobalt catalyst instead of expensive platinum, the researchers published results significant also in that they were done in the “industrially relevant” conditions in which air was present, and at room temperature.

“Until now, no inexpensive molecular catalyst was known to evolve H2 efficiently in water and under aerobic conditions. However, such conditions are essential for use in developing green hydrogen as a future energy source under industrially relevant conditions,” said Dr Erwin Reisner, an EPSRC research fellow and head of the Christian Doppler Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. “Our research has shown that inexpensive materials such as cobalt are suitable to fulfil this challenging requirement. Of course, many hurdles such as the rather poor stability of the catalyst remain to be addressed, but our finding provides a first step to produce ‘green hydrogen’ under relevant conditions.”

Although not ready to produce affordable cars, a summary article by Cambridge said the progress is remarkable in that abundantly available cobalt basically worked, and this heartened researchers given that alternative homogeneous catalyst systems have to date proven inefficient.

“A H2 evolution catalyst which is active under elevated O2 levels is crucial if we are to develop an industrial water splitting process – a chemical reaction that separates the two elements which make up water,” said Reisner. “A real-world device will be exposed to atmospheric O2 and also produce O2 in situ as a result of water splitting.”

You’ll note also he conceded they still need to address poor stability of the catalyst. Next on the plate is a solar water splitting device in which the hydrogen and oxygen are simultaneously produced.

“We are excited about our results and we are optimistic that we will successfully assemble a sunlight-driven water splitting system soon,” said Fezile Lakadamyali and Masaru Kato, co-authors of the study.

The researchers say a sunlit-driven method could yield “green and sustainable H2 instead of not-green and not-sustainable processes presently used to produce H2 from fossil fuels which produces CO2 as a by-product.

The research was published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition for those who wish to read more on these developments.

  • MrEnergyCzar

    Not to beat a dead horse but you’re better off taking the energy source used to make the hydrogen (H2 is just and energy carrier) and put it directly into the end product for use….


  • LotsOfPotential

    I disagree MrEnergyCzar. If they can get this completely industrialized friendly:
    Vehicles will have more horsepower.
    Vehicles will be far more fuel efficient since it burns far cleaner than gas or even methane.
    Our dependency on fossil fuels will no longer be a concern.
    Global Space travel will be closer due to the sheer abundance of our new fuel.

    By industrializing it, this will lead to an energy boom.

    The only thing that will not make this “free” is perhaps finding a economical way to cryogenic-ally store it(like fuel cells that can be hot-swapped to maintain pressure and insulation requirements)

  • StoringTheSun

    Yes, it it always best to eliminate conversion inefficiencies.

    The co-authors expect that they “will successfully assemble a sunlight-driven water splitting system”. The energy source is sunlight. You propose to put that “directly into the end product for use”.

    How will you put sunlight into a car for use?

  • jimbo prez

    Of course it would be better to eliminate conversion inefficiencies by powering cars directly with the initial power source, but this is simply impossible if the power source is sunlight, wind or hydroelectric energy. This energy must be in a form that is easily storable and quickly transferable (you dont want to be sitting at a “light station” for 8 hours waiting for a charge and covering a car with 100% efficient photovoltaics still would not be enough to power a car that weighs enough that the passengers wont disintegrate when they run into a guard rail, let alone a truck). Whether the storage form is H2, batteries, compressed air or some other form remains to be seen

  • John D.

    I would think chemical/sunlight H2 production would be modeled more like a farm, with the product then shipped to the user or station. This may be great, but for now, good old electric separation would probably get more stations up and running without the need to transport.

    If we get hung up on the “best” way to do it, we delay the implementation of infrastructure. Without the infrastructure, the cars don’t sell.

    Using the current grid, you can put a station anywhere you have power. Once there are enough vehicles on the roads, then the demand will make something like a sunlight cracking farm practical to build and attract investors.

  • Jacques A.

    Stan Meyer deceased in 1998, developed a HH0 generator using H.V. resonance and special geometry. The efficiency achieved was in the order of 1600%. ( No, this is not a typo )
    He was snuffed out by the powers that be. This might be out of topic here, but the problem is, too many inventions have been snuffed out due to its ability to produce large amounts of energy to replace oil.
    Most of the people were brain washed and scoff at these kind of ideas. We all have been duped into burning oil and very low efficiency vehicles, when we live in a universe that is all energy, and we can tap this kind of energy.
    Just the U.S. patent office have registered more than 5000 patents that were never allowed to come out and the inventors threatened with their lives. Just G.E. have shelved 28 free energy machines that were never been allowed to come out to save our environment and relief hunger, produce large amounts of clean water and give electric energy to all nations of this planet.

    All inventors and universities of the whole planet must unite and work together for this goal and share their inventions plans far and wide so that this snuffing practice cannot proceed.