The University of Florida is seeking companies interested in commercializing a metal catalyst that will facilitate cost-effective water oxidation to promote hydrogen’s widespread use as an alternative fuel source. A catalyst is a substance that initiates or speeds up a chemical reaction without undergoing permanent compositional changes as a result. Some catalysts can be used to isolate hydrogen. Once isolated, hydrogen is an attractive energy source, as it is renewable and non-polluting. The new catalyst developed by UF researchers is unique because it does not require the inclusion of costly metal ions such as Ru or Ir for water oxidation. Water oxidation, also called “water splitting,” refers to processes that separate out water’s atomic components - cleaving hydrogen molecules free from their attached oxygen molecules. While water splitting can be achieved thorough chemical, electrochemical or photochemical means, only the last two of these methods are “green.” That is, when low potential electrochemical current or sunlight and certain chemical compounds, which are used in small amounts and are stable in the reaction conditions (catalysts), are used to procure hydrogen, waste is virtually eliminated. Unfortunately, most hydrogen used for energy today is produced from natural gas - a process that results in unwanted carbon dioxide emissions. The United States has spent billions of dollars on efforts to improve hydrogen isolation techniques. University of Florida researchers had a breakthrough in this area when they developed an inexpensive compound that mimics the water-oxidizing complex (WOC) found in nature. Because hydrogen can potentially be used to power any manner of device, the market applications for this inexpensive catalyst are endless.
Polynuclear metal clusters that can isolate hydrogen molecules from any existing water source at low cost, removing a major impediment to the widespread adoption of hydrogen energy as a fuel source
- Mimics compounds found in nature, providing a “green” solution
- Costs less to produce than other catalysts, paving the way for widespread use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel source
- Aids transition from “hydrocarbon economy” to “solar hydrogen economy,” safeguarding the environment from damaging pollutants
- Inexpensive compared to other catalysts, providing greater profit opportunity
- Utilizes abundant raw components (untreated water and common metal ions), ensuring an unlimited supply of hydrogen is available to meet ever-increasing energy demands
- Stable in the reaction medium (water), therefore lasting longer and working more efficiently than other catalytic complexes
- Performs in seawater; able to catalyze hydrogen production from the most abundant natural water source
- Will eventually cost much less than traditional energy sources, preventing future energy crises
Hydrogen, which could conceivably power any device, is an attractive, non-polluting energy source with untapped potential. Unfortunately, the lack of economical catalysts has prevented the world from embracing water-splitting techniques for cleaner hydrogen isolation. University of Florida researchers were inspired by nature to develop innovative catalysts from various metal ions. Studies have shown that certain compounds (e.g. those possessing cube-like or planar triangular structures) will function as effective water oxidation catalysts. The high oxidation Mn-oxo compounds these researchers created mimic the structure of naturally occurring water-oxidizing complexes found in plants and bacteria. By utilizing carboxylate ligands and nitrogen-containing ligands to their advantage, the researchers were able to generate water-soluble and water-stable derivatives of these high oxidation molecular compounds that carry out homogeneous electrocatalytic water splitting with a relatively high degree of efficiency.