(September 14, 2015) Hydrogen could be the ideal fuel: Whether used to make electricity in a fuel cell or burned to make heat, the only byproduct is water; there is no climate-altering carbon dioxide.
Like gasoline, hydrogen could also be used to store energy.
Hydrogen is usually produced by separating water with electrical power. And although the water supply is essentially limitless, a major roadblock to a future "hydrogen economy" is the need for platinum or other expensive noble metals in the water-splitting devices.
Noble metals resist oxidation and include many of the precious metals, such as platinum, palladium, iridium and gold.
"In the hydrogen evolution reaction, the whole game is coming up with inexpensive alternatives to platinum and the other noble metals," says Song Jin, a professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
In the online edition of Nature Materials that appears today, Jin's research team reports a hydrogen-making catalyst containing phosphorus and sulfur - both common elements - and cobalt, a metal that is 1,000 times cheaper than platinum.
Catalysts reduce the energy needed to start a chemical reaction. The new catalyst is almost as efficient as platinum and likely shows the highest catalytic performance among the non-noble metal catalysts reported so far, Jin reports.