Cheap catalyst may lower fuel costs for hydrogen cars

Researchers have found a way to replace the rare and expensive platinum catalyst with dirt-cheap molybdenum disulfide, or “molly”, to make hydrogen a less expensive fuel for cars.

The improved catalyst has already released four times the amount of hydrogen ever produced by 37-cents-a-gram molly from water.

“We should get far more output as we learn to better integrate molly with, for example, fuel-cell systems,” said lead author Stan Chou, postdoctoral fellow at Sandia National Laboratories in US.

An additional benefit is that molly’s action can be triggered by sunlight, a feature which eventually may provide users an off-the-grid means of securing hydrogen fuel.

Hydrogen fuel is desirable because, unlike gasoline, it does not release carbon into the atmosphere when burned.

The combustion of hydrogen with oxygen produces an exhaust of only water.

“The idea was to understand the changes in the molecular structure of molybdenum disulfide, so that it can be a better catalyst for hydrogen production - closer to platinum in efficiency, but earth-abundant and cheap,” said Chou.

“We did this by investigating the structural transformations of molybdenum disulfide at the atomic scale, so that all of the materials parts that were ‘dead’ can now work to make hydrogen,” said Chou.

Researchers used computer simulations that suggested which molecular changes to look for. However, they caution that what’s been established is a fundamental proof of principle, not an industrial process.
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