“Insights from this discovery may lead to even better catalysts in the future.”
Cheaper clean-energy technologies could be made possible thanks to a new discovery. Led by Raymond Schaak, a professor of chemistry at Penn State University, research team members have found that an important chemical reaction that generates hydrogen from water is effectively triggered — or catalyzed — by a nanoparticle composed of nickel and phosphorus, two inexpensive elements that are abundant on Earth. The results of the research will be published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
Schaak explained that the purpose of the nickel phosphide nanoparticle is to help produce hydrogen from water, which is a process that is important for many energy-production technologies, including fuel cells and solar cells. “Water is an ideal fuel, because it is cheap and abundant, but we need to be able to extract hydrogen from it,” Schaak said. Hydrogen has a high energy density and is a great energy carrier, Schaak explained, but it requires energy to produce.
To make its production practical, scientists have been hunting for a way to trigger the required chemical reactions with an inexpensive catalyst. Schaak noted that this feat is accomplished very well by platinum but, because platinum is expensive and relatively rare, he and his team have been searching for alternative materials. “There were some predictions that nickel phosphide might be a good candidate, and we had already been working with nickel phosphide nanoparticles for several years,” Schaak said. “It turns out that nanoparticles of nickel phosphide are indeed active for producing hydrogen and are comparable to the best known alternatives to platinum.”
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