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New Process Devised For Efficient Hydrogen Production

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A research team at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland has discovered that catalysts based on the element molybdenum can make possible a more cost-effective and sustainable process for producing hydrogen. Their findings appear in the journal Chemical Science (paid subscription required).

Hydrogen is an abundant element on earth, but still remains difficult and expensive to produce by itself. The common process of electrolysis is slow and up to now the catalysts to speed that process, such as platinum, are increasingly expensive. EPFL chemist Xile Hu and his team have discovered that molybdenum-based catalysts can produce hydrogen at room temperature, and is inexpensive and efficient.

The specific catalysts found are amorphous molybdenum sulphides, which exhibit some advantageous characteristics. They are stable and compatible with acidic, neutral, or basic conditions in water. And the rate of the hydrogen production is faster than other catalysts at about the same price.

Xile Hu explains that his team came upon the discovery unexpectedly. “It’s a perfect illustration of the famous serendipity principle in fundamental research,” but he says it also means they need to better understand why the catalysts work the way they do.

The discovery opens up possibilities for industrial applications such as in the area of solar energy storage. The next stage is to create a prototype that can help to improve sunlight-driven hydrogen production. In the meantime, an international patent on the process has been filed.

Read more: Fuels Developer Claims Large-Scale Hydrogen from Algae

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