Researchers at the University of Amsterdam make inexpensive catalyst for hydrogen productio




It is researchers from the Van ‘t Hoff Institute of the University of Amsterdam managed to develop a catalyst inspired by a natural enzyme to produce hydrogen. The catalyst is based on iron and, therefore, cheaper and better to scale up than platinum.

Catalytic hydrogenation production photo: UvA Joost Reek The enzymes in which the catalyst is based on, are the hydrogenase enzymes. These enzymes can create highly efficient molecular hydrogen from protons and electrons. Are often used for this type of catalysts, processes, which are based on platinum. But that is a rare and expensive element. As a result, the production of hydrogen from renewable sources such as wind or solar energy not yet commercially feasible.

Lead author Joost Reek of Advances in Science published research submit to Tweakers from the research team sees hydrogen as a potentially important energy carrier. “But that’s only useful if you can produce it in a sustainable way, for example with the sun as an energy source,” said Reek. “We’re in our lab working on solar fuel devices, so devices that convert water into oxygen and hydrogen. You then stores the solar energy in chemical hydrogen bonding. If you then use the hydrogen fuel, there is only water-free and that so it is a sustainable source. ”

“Nature has a very nice system: hydrogenase” Reek says. “Hydrogenases are just as good as platinum. You can thus just as quickly make hydrogen.” The latter thus shows that using iron is good for this reaction. There’s just got a snag Reek says, that hydrogenases themselves are not useful in applications and model systems. Also, they typically do not work well and are not soluble in water. “We looked at the literature to how the natural system works and there appears to be a second cluster in addition to the active site, an iron-sulfur cluster. This cluster stores electrons act as a reservoir close to the reaction center. In our model system we have at the active iron center a phosphorus ligand made ​​anywhere electrons in to his store. These electrons move in such a catalytic cycle of the phosphorus ligand in the iron complex, in a similar manner as in nature. Then we have fixed there are nitrogen-containing or pyridine groups, so that it is soluble in water and as a bonus turns out to also operate in an environment with oxygen. ”

mechanism for proton reduction Proposed mechanism for proton reduction (source: Science)

In most of the experimental set-ups, the researchers use a type of beaker with threads therein with a colored solution, in this case with their iron complex as a catalyst. Over the test set-up is the voltage at which one of the electrodes is composed of a gold-mercury alloy in which the hydrogen is formed. “But there is still an important issue we have to solve,” said Reek. “The overpotential that is needed to initiate the catalytic reaction, is still too high. Our catalyst only starts at 0.6 volts. This difference creates heat because it is not yet optimal catalyst. That problem is solvable in principle because nature has no experience, so we have to have a closer look at nature. ”

Reek goes even deeper into possible future research into the life of such a catalyst. “Imagine, for further research you might want to put a solar panel with this system on your roof, the catalyst achieves a lifetime of more than ten years? We do not know yet.” The research is part of have the Biosolar Cells program of various Dutch knowledge institutes and companies aiming to use and store solar energy efficiently.


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