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Red Cobalt

Water oxidation is essential for extracting hydrogen from H2O using sunlight. Back in 2010, Emory University researchers, led by Craig Hill, discovered a homogeneous catalyst for oxidizing water, which could lead to replicating photosynthesis, but more efficiently and in a controllable way. Emory chemists, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, have written a new paper describing ways to use cobalt – a cheap and abundant element – to oxidize water.

The basic idea is photoelectrochemical water splitting (aka artificial photosynthesis), which combines a photovoltaic solar cell with electrolysis. The most efficient devices of this type use platinum – which is extremely expensive – to split the water. Using the Emory University research, the National Academies of Sciences released a paper in early June that described a device that integrates the cobalt catalyst with a silicon solar cell to split water.

The cobalt-based catalysts exhibit high levels of activity at room temperature and operate under neutral pH conditions. This means that this device doesn't have stability issues and, when combined with silicon, can increase the efficiency of photoelectrochemical water splitting.

Too complex? In simple terms, the cobalt-based catalyst, when paired with a silicon-based solar device, could be the breakthrough that leads to the production of cheaper hydrogen for use in fuel-cell vehicles. That's the idea, anyway.

[Source: Autopia | Image: jaja_1985 – C.C. License 2.0]


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 21 Comments
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 3 Years Ago
      The price of cobalt keeps rising, and IMHO it is best used in battery electrodes. This is an interesting advance, but i still think that hydrogen is a dead end. So much more work needs to be done.
        MBCoast
        • 3 Months Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        I disagree that H2 is a dead end. A fuel cell stack coupled with an EV could provide that extra range battery cars are missing. The purpose of a fuel cell in this mode would be to give a quick fill up capability as well as to extend range. Two problems with EV's are 1: Range, 2: Long recharge times. Even half an hour is a long wait when on the road and light is fading. A quick shot of hydrogen could get you back on the road faster and to your destination where a longer recharge of the battery could be had. If the cost of H2 could be brought down substantially and it could be produced carbon-free, then I only see a win-win here. As the article said - "...cobalt – a cheap and abundant element"
      Chris M
      • 3 Years Ago
      The fact remains that storing electrical power via batteries remains 3x more efficient than storing electrical power via water electrolysis & fuel cells. For solar power, that means using just 1/3 as many solar cells, which would be one of the most expensive components of a plan for solar powered vehicles. Result, even with less expensive Cobalt catalysts, a "solar powered H2 FCV" still isn't close to cost competitive to their battery electric rivals. ( that doesn't even take into account the high cost of H2 storage or the high cost of fuel cells.)
        letstakeawalk
        • 3 Months Ago
        @Chris M
        You keep on not believing! Maybe one day it won't happen, and then you won't say you were wrong! :) The fact is, hydrogen FCVs have better energy densities than BEVs, which is a major plus for them - better range, larger cargo capacity, etc.
          Marco Polo
          • 3 Months Ago
          @letstakeawalk
          @LTW, long before EV showed any real practicality, Hydrogen was considered really promising technology. However, you would have to admit that EV technology has some very substantial advantages at present. The first is distribution. EV's already have a massive, very economical, existing infrastructure. Secondly, the head start by hybrids and BEV's. Thirdly, the cost of manufacture. Thirdly, all those Solar panel, EV owners. Don't get me wrong, I'm not writing hydrogen off, but the longer the delay, the greater the opposition becomes entrenched. By interesting to see the final dynamics of Hydrogen especially if it could be used in a marine application.
          letstakeawalk
          • 3 Months Ago
          @letstakeawalk
          Marco Polo I agree, BEVs have a very definite placehold in the market, and will be a very important part of our transportation sector. What I don't agree with is the theory that there is some sort of competition between hydrogen FCVs and BEVs, with one or the other destined to "win". Certainly, one may have larger market share than the other, but I think both technological solutions will coexist, and certainly intermingle. Hydrogen FCVs have many market niches which they can fill; you mention marine applications and it is true that we can already see that market developing. HFCV lift trucks are gaining popularity in warehouse applications, in another sector. I'm glad you're not writing HFCVs off, because I can't imagine why anyone would be happy to ignore the benefits of a renewable emissions-free energy carrier - aside from the conspiracy theorists who seem afraid that large corporations are planning something sinister.
        goodoldgorr
        • 3 Months Ago
        @Chris M
        I don't understand you and probably nobody else understand you. Did you read the article or you just started your anti energy rant automaticcally as you do all the time. The article is clear, it say that cheap cobalt catalyst cost less then platinum for producing neutral ph hydrogen gas and that they will install this very soon for actual fuelcell cars and trucks and tractor-trailers trucks, trains and airplanes and various machineries including electric generation in big and small electrical plants . You cannot charge batteries if you don't make electricity in the first place but do hydrogen gas. You cannot recharge batteries if they are not plugged to a solar panel. 3x more efficient to charge batteries while the article say that they discover a new catalyst so it change the values, so you didn't read the article but still do your job of batteries pr and you never mention that you black pr hydrogen by saying that a fuelcell car cost 1 million while all the auto industry said that it's 50 000 tousands to begin and that it will cost less after a while, how it is to be wrong 20 to one and that it's written all over the place. will you lose your job because a simple stupid material called cobalt find a market. Your maths are wrong except petrol trading pr.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Bring on those magic bullets!
      Levine Levine
      • 3 Years Ago
      When everybody is making "moonshine" hydrogen from their backyard, the oil barrons and tax man will push for laws banning the home brew concoction. Or Big Oil will just buy out the patent and then kill it.
        MBCoast
        • 3 Months Ago
        @Levine Levine
        Most likely a permit would be required to ensure proper storage of H2 gas. I believe one can only store so much gasoline in a residence as well. I hope, as I'm sure you do, that you are wrong. But I'm an optimist. Certainly if you are right it would only be history repeating itself.
      krona2k
      • 3 Years Ago
      Well I'm not sure how much cobalt they will need or what its lifetime will be, so I might be wrong with what I'm about to say. That is, cobalt is not 'cheap' in one study of cobalt based lithium ion cells the percentage of the *total cost* of the cell that cobalt represented was 60%. That's not total material costs, but total costs including labor, plant etc. etc. etc. The new large format cells especially designed for EV/plug-ins are not primarily cobalt based for a good reasons, safety is probably one of them but it seems likely cost is too. I'm sure someone will probably point out cheaper cobalt cells but I think we can can assume that the large format cells will end up being substantially cheaper. For example Nissan's batteries, 'substantially less than $350 per kw/h in pack', again assumptions are this is due to automation of the pack assembly and cheaper materials in the cells.
      Smith Jim
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'd love to be proven wrong about this but if this pans out there are still huge hurdles to overcome for hydrogen to be a viable fuel. There's the compression or liquefaction problem. The transportation problems. The high cost of fuel cells, etc. etc. The list of hurdles goes on and on. http://www.energybulletin.net/node/11963
        krona2k
        • 3 Months Ago
        @Smith Jim
        Hydrogen is no doubt used in industry when is either the best, or most efficient, or only known way to achieve a desired result. Hydrogen is an energy sink and always will be, seems more likely that synthetic and non conventional liquids will grow once everyone has done their sums!
        • 3 Months Ago
        @Smith Jim
        You'd be surprised by how widely produced and consumed hydrogen is. Just off the top of my head they use hydrogen in petroleum refining to remove sulfur and help convert heavy crude to light crude, in food production (hydrogenated oils), creation of other chemicals like ammonia and drugs, used in welding gasses, semiconductor manufacturing, in power plants for cooling generators, etc. There's already a pretty decent infrastructure for moving that gas around. Not as big as needed for a 100% switch from gasoline to hydrogen, but it isn't in its infancy either.
        • 3 Months Ago
        @Smith Jim
        Why would there be compression, liquifaction or transportation problems when this solution just begs to be used in a residential setting...as in your home is ALSO your gas station? Get it?
      letstakeawalk
      • 3 Years Ago
      Scientists are working on a variety of hydrogen production techniques, and making major advances in many different areas. Inexpensive renewable hydrogen is a shared goal for many of us, so this is great news! Here's another approach, using metallic nanoparticles: "Tiny metallic particles produced by University of Adelaide chemistry researchers are bringing new hope for the production of cheap, efficient and clean hydrogen energy. Led by Associate Professor Greg Metha, Head of Chemistry, the researchers are exploring how the metal nanoparticles act as highly efficient catalysts in using solar radiation to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. “Efficient and direct production of hydrogen from solar radiation provides a renewable energy source that is the pinnacle of clean energy,” said Associate Professor Greg Metha. “We believe this work will contribute significantly to the global effort to convert solar energy into portable chemical energy.” The latest research is the outcome of 14 years of fundamental research by Associate Professor Metha’s research group investigating the synthesis and properties of metal nanoparticles and how they work as catalysts at the molecular level. The group works with metal “clusters” of about one-quarter of a nanometre in size – less than 10 atoms. Associate Professor Metha said these tiny “magic clusters” act as super-efficient catalysts. Catalysts drive chemical reactions, reducing the amount of energy required. “We’ve discovered ways of producing these tiny metallic clusters, we’ve explored their fundamental chemical activity, and now we are applying their catalytic properties to reactions which have great potential benefit for industrial use and the environment,” said Associate Professor Metha. PhD student Jason Alvino is exploring splitting water to make hydrogen (and oxygen) using solar energy – a process that is not viable for industry development at the moment. “We know this catalysis works very efficiently at the molecular level and now need to demonstrate it works on the macroscopic scale,” said Associate Professor Metha. “Splitting water to make hydrogen and oxygen requires a lot of energy and is an expensive process. We will be using solar radiation as the energy source, so there will be no carbon emissions and because the clusters work so efficiently as a catalyst, it will be a much better process. “The ultimate aim is to produce hydrogen from water as a cheap portable energy source.” Associate Professor Metha said there were also other industrial chemical reactions that could be made feasible by these catalysts, using solar radiation as the energy source – with potentially significant environmental benefits. One example was converting carbon dioxide into methane or methanol with water. This project ‘Solar Hydrogen: photocatalytic generation of hydrogen from water’, has been funded under the three-year clean energy partnership between Adelaide Airport Ltd and the University’s Centre for Ener
      goodoldgorr
      • 3 Years Ago
      I said many times to install this machinery in grocery stores where you get a free hydrogen refill if you stop at the store and buy 5$ or more. This gas cost nothing to make offer more mpg then gasoline for a same quantity and do not pollute. Just do not listen swiss bankers for a while. Also this machinery as it is cheap can be installed at home and power the house and cars.
        Chris M
        • 3 Months Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        Sorry, gorr, but wishful thinking won't change reality, so it doesn't matter how often you've "said" to do something, if it can't happen it won't happen.. Hydrogen fuel from the cheapest source is still more expensive than gasoline, and using expensive photovoltaic cells to produce it just increases the cost even more, and all your wishful thinking won't change that. .
          Marco Polo
          • 3 Months Ago
          @Chris M
          @Brent, stop it ! We all know you a just an alter-ego for DF! Did you think we'd forget after so long?
          • 3 Months Ago
          @Chris M
          You're lodged in convention, LoDGED
        goodoldgorr
        • 3 Months Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        I want my free cobalt hydrogen, this thing is mainly a promo act to attrack consumers to other store products. Let the machinery produce something usefull while we sleep or drive.
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