Breaking Up (Hydrogen) No Longer As Hard To Do

January 11, 2012

It's said that breaking up is hard to do. That's undoubtedly true. But, when the lightning does strike, the electricity is lasting.

What's true for affairs of the heart also holds true for the affairs of hydrogen, as researchers at the DOE's Office of Science's Argonne National Laboratory have recently shown. Hydrogen is an important energetic element that is used in a variety of applications ranging from making semiconductors to powering fuel cells. However, it's also a difficult, expensive one to produce in pure molecular form. Hydrogen usually shows up as a pair of hydrogen atoms (H2).

As Nenad Markovic, a senior chemist at Argonne, noted, "People understand that once you have hydrogen, you can extract a lot of energy from it, but they don’t realize just how hard it is to generate that hydrogen in the first place." Markovic led research at Argonne that recently showed a cheaper, cleaner way to produce pure hydrogen, one that begins with a breakup. Specifically, the team took a look at breaking up water, taking the H2 out of the H2O. Water electrolyzers already do so, typically using special metals like platinum to speed up, or catalyze, the reaction. However, in addition to being costly, platinum is also a better maker-upper than breaker-upper—it is better at fixing single hydrogen atoms up than separating them from water in the first place. Read the full story on DOE's Energy Blog.