Sustainable energy practices can only be further advanced, and climate changed tackled if the world transitions into a hydrogen economy. Hydrogen is produced with the help of water electrolysis that uses renewable electricity and can be applicable both as a reagent for creating bulk chemicals from Co2 or as a clean energy carrier.
Large-scale water electrolysis is at the center of accomplishing these goals. However, the problem with electrolysers is that the technology is surrounded by major challenges. For instance, only the conventional alkaline electrolysis could be operated at low current density and low pressure; in sharp contrast, the emerging PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) electrolysers necessitate the use of scarce metal catalysts while requiring extensive water purification.
Now, a research team has demonstrated a practical membrane-free approach for conducting water electrolysis through earth-abundant catalysts. The novel electrolyser would be a huge advancement for Hydrogen Electrolyser Market as it is capable of delivering hydrogen gas with over 99 percent purity. Further, it contains several advantages over the electrolysers that are being developed for industrial-scale hydrogen production currently.
The new membrane-free electrolysers work by splitting the hydrogen and oxygen at high current density only through the use of earth-abundant catalysts. It comprises two indistinguishable and separate compartments built like a sandwich structure. Through the sandwich pass, two solutions: an oxygen-rich anolyte and a hydrogen-rich catholyte. In the course of operation, the catholyte and anolyte cycle back and forth, causing the roles of both compartments to be regularly reversed. This results in the novel electrolyser delivering 99 percent pure hydrogen gas.
In order to receive continuous performance, the electrolysers are made to operate in a cyclic manner wherein the electrode catalyst keeps active bi-functionally. Tests conducted by the team showed that it could perform equally well for both purposes of water oxidation reaction and water reduction reaction. It should be noted that the new process required the involvement of no noble metals. Instead, the cells use an engineered version of catalysts doped with nitrogen.
Researchers further explained that using materials found in abundance is the key to real-life applications. To compete in the market and emerge successfully, the cost of hydrogen needs to be below 2 Euros/kg. Thus, commercial, industrial-scale production of hydrogen needs other solutions. This is where the design for electrolysers with new configurations comes in as they are based on abundant elements that have a possibility of being implemented in real life. The team would continue working on tackling other fundamental and applicable questions in relation to the technology so that the cell technology can successfully be scaled up.
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