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In a breakthrough, scientists have found an economically viable way to create fuel from water by splitting it into oxygen and hydrogen, using an ultrathin catalyst. Just as solar light can generate electricity, the water splitting process could do the same via the generation of clean chemical fuel such as hydrogen, said Huijin Zhao, Director of Griffith University's Centre for Clean Environment and Energy (CCEE) in Australia. While it is already scientifically possible to split water in this way, highly efficient catalysts are the key to moving the system to one that is economically viable, researchers said. "The world is now facing five major issues for humanity - energy, environment, water, food security and public health," Zhao said. "Global warming is ranked first and it is all resulting from burning fossil fuels because that is where carbon dioxide comes from," he said. "To reduce this and to make the global temperature not rise beyond 2 degrees Celsius you have to find clean, renewable energy and hydrogen equals clean energy," said Zhao. "It's part of the solution if we really can split water into two that will be one scientific solution for the future of sustainable energy supplies," he added.
Zhao said hydrogen would be a promising clean fuel over petrol in foreseeable future. Heterogeneous electrocatalytic gas evolution reactions hold a key for clean energy generation and storage technologies, but their efficiencies are severely hindered by high overpotentials caused by slow gaseous products detachment from catalyst surface. Overpotentials represent the extra energy required to make a chemical reaction to occur.
The higher the overpotential, the higher the energy consumption. This project aims to tackle this critical issue by developing novel two-dimensional ultrathin porous electrocatalysts with superior gas detachment properties and low overpotentials. The outcome of the project will provide sound scientific basis to design and develop high performance electrocatalysts for fuel gas production. The study was published in the journal Nature Energy.