Major Clean Energy Breakthrough Made by Irish Researchers

Posted on: 23 May 2016

New material will increase adoption of hydrogen as a fuel in energy efficient transportation

The development of a real alternative to fossil fuels is perhaps the greatest technological challenge faced by humanity at present. Now, researchers at CRANN, the Nanoscience Institute based at Trinity College Dublin have developed a material which enhances the splitting of water at a very low energy cost using earth abundant raw materials. This new material performs as well as the world’s most effective material for water splitting (which is the scarce and expensive ruthenium oxide) but is much less expensive. This is a significant breakthrough, as it means that an energy efficient production of pure hydrogen is now possible using renewable energy sources which will potentially accelerate adoption of hydrogen as a fuel in energy efficient transportation.

Hydrogen has been described as the ultimate clean energy source, it’s seen as very attractive as it is a pollution free fuel and energy carrier which would satisfy much of the energy requirements of our society. Hydrogen is readily prepared by splitting water electrically into its component parts hydrogen and oxygen (a process called electrolysis).

However, this process requires a significant energy input. The widespread uptake of hydrogen as a fuel has been hampered by the lack of low cost, earth abundant materials which can accomplish the splitting of water, with minimal energy input, in an economically efficient manner using renewable energy sources.

The CRANN breakthrough recently published in the prestigious international journal ACS Catalysis, has shown that the ruthenium content can be decreased by as much as 90% and substituted with the earth abundant and inexpensive manganese oxide without diminishing the efficiency of the material to split water. 

Professor Mike Lyons, Principal Investigator at CRANN and School of Chemistry: “We are very excited about this very significant breakthrough. The adoption of this material in industry will mean that electrochemical hydrogen generation using photo (electrolysis) is now far more economically viable and will hasten adoption of hydrogen as a fuel in energy efficient transportation. It should be noted that this discovery could only have been accomplished using the world class characterization facilities and opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration available within the School of Chemistry and CRANN.”

Lorraine Byrne,  Executive Director CRANN Institute and AMBER National Centre: “Our team of researchers at CRANN always strive to bring excellent science with potential environmental and societal impact. This scientific breakthrough brings us one step closer to a realistic energy alternative.”

Mike Lyons, continued:  “Our disruptive materials breakthrough is momentous as it means much more energetically efficient and more economical hydrogen energy. This means that the cost of producing hydrogen via water electrolysis will be significantly reduced, which will result in a more rapid uptake of hydrogen as an automotive fuel.”

Professor Mike Lyons leads the Trinity Electrochemical Energy Conversion and Electrocatalysis Group.  He has published two books and more than 126 papers, and has a h-index of 33, which demonstrates the worldwide impact of his research. Working with Professor Mike Lyons, was PhD student, Michelle Browne.

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