Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Home > Press > Synthetic molecule first electricity-making catalyst to use iron to split hydrogen gas: Fast and efficient biologically inspired catalyst could someday make fuel cells cheaper

Burning hydrogen in a fuel cell generates an electrical current. A new iron-based catalyst might help make those fuel cells less expensive.
Burning hydrogen in a fuel cell generates an electrical current. A new iron-based catalyst might help make those fuel cells less expensive.

Abstract:
To make fuel cells more economical, engineers want a fast and efficient iron-based molecule that splits hydrogen gas to make electricity. Online Feb. 17 at Nature Chemistry, researchers report such a catalyst. It is the first iron-based catalyst that converts hydrogen directly to electricity. The result moves chemists and engineers one step closer to widely affordable fuel cells.

Synthetic molecule first electricity-making catalyst to use iron to split hydrogen gas: Fast and efficient biologically inspired catalyst could someday make fuel cells cheaper

Richland, WA | Posted on February 18th, 2013

"A drawback with today's fuel cells is that the platinum they use is more than a thousand times more expensive than iron," said chemist R. Morris Bullock, who leads the research at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

His team at the Center for Molecular Electrocatalysis has been developing catalysts that use cheaper metals such as nickel and iron. The one they report here can split hydrogen as fast as two molecules per second with an efficiency approaching those of commercial catalysts. The center is one of 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers established by the DOE Office of Science across the nation in 2009 to accelerate basic research in energy.

Fuel cells generate electricity out of a chemical fuel, usually hydrogen. The bond within a hydrogen molecule stores electricity, where two electrons connect two hydrogen atoms like a barbell.

Fuel cells use a platinum catalyst -- essentially a chunk of metal -- to crack a hydrogen molecule open like an egg: The electron whites run out and form a current that is electricity. Because platinum's chemical nature gives it the ability to do this, chemists can't simply replace the expensive metal with the cheaper iron or nickel. However, a molecule that exists in nature called a hydrogenase (high-dra-jin-ace) uses iron to split hydrogen.

Bullock and his PNNL colleagues, chemists Tianbiao "Leo" Liu and Dan DuBois, have taken inspiration for their iron-wielding catalyst from a hydrogenase. First Liu created several potential molecules for the team to test. Then, with the best-working molecule up to that point, they determined and tweaked the shape and the internal electronic forces to make additional improvements.

One of the tricks they needed the catalyst to do was to split hydrogen atoms into all of their parts. If a hydrogen atom is an egg, the positively charged proton that serves as the nucleus of the atom would be the yolk. And the electron, which orbits around the proton in a cloud, would be the white. The catalyst moves both the proton-yolks and electron-whites around in a controlled series of steps, sending the protons in one direction and the electrons to an electrode, where the electricity can be used to power things.

To do this, they need to split hydrogen molecules unevenly in an early step of the process. One hydrogen molecule is made up of two protons and two electrons, but the team needed the catalyst to tug away one proton first and send it away, where it is caught by a kind of molecule called a proton acceptor. In a real fuel cell, the acceptor would be oxygen.

Once the first proton with its electron-wooing force is gone, the electrode easily plucks off the first electron. Then another proton and electron are similarly removed, with both of the electrons being shuttled off to the electrode.

The team determined the shape and size of the catalyst and also tested different proton acceptors. With the iron in the middle, arms hanging like pendants around the edges draw out the protons. The best acceptors stole these drawn-off protons away quickly.

With their design down, the team measured how fast the catalyst split molecular hydrogen. It peaked at about two molecules per second, thousands of times faster than the closest, non-electricity making iron-based competitor. In addition, they determined its overpotential, which is a measure of how efficient the catalyst is. Coming in at 160 to 220 millivolts, the catalyst revealed itself to be similar in efficiency to most commercially available catalysts.

Now the team is figuring out the slow steps so they can make them faster, as well as determining the best conditions under which this catalyst performs.

This work was supported by the Department of Energy, Office of Science.

Reference: Tianbiao Liu, Daniel L. DuBois and R. Morris Bullock. An iron complex with pendent amines as a molecular electrocatalyst for oxidation of hydrogen, Nature Chemistry, Month Day, 2013, doi:10.1038/NCHEM.1571.

####

About DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Interdisciplinary teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. PNNL employs 4,500 staff, has an annual budget of nearly $1 billion, and has been managed for the U.S. Department of Energy by Ohio-based Battelle since the laboratory's inception in 1965. For more, visit the PNNL's News Center, or follow PNNL on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

DOE's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit the Office of Science website at science.energy.gov.

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Mary Beckman

509-375-3688

Copyright © DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related News Press

News and information

Bosch announces high-performance MEMS acceleration sensors for wearables June 27th, 2017

Nanometrics to Participate in the 9th Annual CEO Investor Summit 2017: Accredited investor and publishing research analyst event held concurrently with SEMICON West and Intersolar 2017 in San Francisco June 27th, 2017

NMRC, University of Nottingham chooses the Quorum Q150 coater for its reliable and reproducible film thickness when coating samples with iridium June 27th, 2017

Picosunís ALD solutions enable novel high-speed memories June 27th, 2017

Laboratories

Alloying materials of different structures offers new tool for controlling properties June 19th, 2017

Development of low-dimensional nanomaterials could revolutionize future technologies June 15th, 2017

X-ray Study Reveals Way to Control Molecular Vibrations that Transmit Heat: Findings open new pathway for "tuning" materials to ease or insulate against the flow of heat, sound, and other forms of energy June 7th, 2017

Scientists Design Molecular System for Artificial Photosynthesis: System is designed to mimic key functions of the photosynthetic center in green plants to convert solar energy into chemical energy stored by hydrogen fuel June 2nd, 2017

Govt.-Legislation/Regulation/Funding/Policy

Atomic imperfections move quantum communication network closer to reality June 25th, 2017

Research accelerates quest for quicker, longer-lasting electronics: UC Riverside-led research makes topological insulators magnetic well above room temperatures June 25th, 2017

U.S. Air Force Research Lab Taps IBM to Build Brain-Inspired AI Supercomputing System: Equal to 64 million neurons, new neurosynaptic supercomputing system will power complex AI tasks at unprecedented speed and energy efficiency June 23rd, 2017

Rice U. chemists create 3-D printed graphene foam June 22nd, 2017

Discoveries

Physicists make quantum leap in understanding life's nanoscale machinery June 27th, 2017

Picosunís ALD solutions enable novel high-speed memories June 27th, 2017

Atomic imperfections move quantum communication network closer to reality June 25th, 2017

Research accelerates quest for quicker, longer-lasting electronics: UC Riverside-led research makes topological insulators magnetic well above room temperatures June 25th, 2017

Announcements

Bosch announces high-performance MEMS acceleration sensors for wearables June 27th, 2017

Nanometrics to Participate in the 9th Annual CEO Investor Summit 2017: Accredited investor and publishing research analyst event held concurrently with SEMICON West and Intersolar 2017 in San Francisco June 27th, 2017

NMRC, University of Nottingham chooses the Quorum Q150 coater for its reliable and reproducible film thickness when coating samples with iridium June 27th, 2017

Picosunís ALD solutions enable novel high-speed memories June 27th, 2017

Interviews/Book Reviews/Essays/Reports/Podcasts/Journals/White papers

Physicists make quantum leap in understanding life's nanoscale machinery June 27th, 2017

Picosunís ALD solutions enable novel high-speed memories June 27th, 2017

Atomic imperfections move quantum communication network closer to reality June 25th, 2017

Research accelerates quest for quicker, longer-lasting electronics: UC Riverside-led research makes topological insulators magnetic well above room temperatures June 25th, 2017

Energy

Tiny bubbles provide tremendous propulsion in new microparticles research-Ben-Gurion U. June 21st, 2017

Enhanced photocatalytic activity by Cu2O nanoparticles integrated H2Ti3O7 nanotubes June 21st, 2017

Cambridge Nanotherm partners with Inabata for global sales and distribution June 20th, 2017

Development of low-dimensional nanomaterials could revolutionize future technologies June 15th, 2017

Fuel Cells

Electrocatalyst nanostructures key to improved fuel cells, electrolyzers June 5th, 2017

Stanford scientists use nanotechnology to boost the performance of key industrial catalyst May 18th, 2017

MIT Energy Initiative awards 10 seed fund grants for early-stage energy research May 4th, 2017

Promising results obtained with a new electrocatalyst that reduces the need for platinum: Researchers from Aalto University have succeeded in manufacturing electrocatalysts used for storing electric energy with one-hundredth of the amount of platinum that is usually needed March 24th, 2017

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE



  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoTech-Transfer
University Technology Transfer & Patents
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project