New Electrode Makes Hydrogen Electrolysis 10 Times Faster

Posted on Mar 17, 2008 - 06:52 PM
By: Adam Beazley

There is a lot of buzz lately about a hydrogen economy. I have always been a bit of a skeptic about this hydrogen economy, because although hydrogen is a clean burning energy carrier, it is currently produced in a pretty dirty way. Over 85% of the world’s hydrogen is produced by using natural gas in a process called steam reformation. Unfortunately this process is not very green, in fact, for each pound of hydrogen this process makes, it produces 4 pounds of greenhouse gases in the form of carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2). So, the idea of switching an entire economy from one dirty energy carrier (oil) to a little less dirty energy carrier (hydrogen) does not make too much sense to me.

Now the idea of the hydrogen economy is to produce all hydrogen using renewable energy sources, which in theory sounds great. However, typical electrolysis is an expensive, slow, and somewhat inefficient process and this is precisely why steam reformation is the process of choice for producing hydrogen. Simply put, it is cheaper and faster than electrolysis, but in no way is it greener or cleaner.

Until now the electrodes used in the electrolysis process were made of precious metal catalyst materials making them too expensive to compete with steam reformation. A company called Quantum Sphere, Inc. has found a way around this little problem by using an alkaline electrolysis process, which eliminates the need for precious metal catalysts. In alkaline electrolysis, nickel is the ideal catalyst because it can easily be produced at the nano scale and it is far less costly than platinum. The company has also invented a technique, using nano technology, to increase the catalytic surface area of each electrode, giving them 2,000 times more surface area than its predecessors.

QSI has demonstrated that by using a blend of their nickel and iron catalyst materials, they can achieved electrolysis efficiencies exceeding 85%, while achieving production increases of ten-fold over all other previously published data. Keep in mind that electrolysis is a pollution free, non CO2 emitting process. At $1.14 to $4.09 per pound of hydrogen, this drastic improvement in electrolysis efficiency now makes hydrogen an economically and commercially viable replacement for our current fossil fuel economy. With efficiencies like these, we may just see compact electrolysis units inside future automobiles, producing on-demand hydrogen to power on board fuel cells.

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Show/Hide Comments (5)

By Question on 03/18/2008

So couldn’t a large company use the expensive precious metal catalysts with the 2000x surface area nano design to create a super efficient electrolysis converter? Or am I to understand that the precious metal is somehow consumed or degraded during the process?


By Adam Beazley on 03/18/2008

Well the point is that typical precious metal catalysts are not very efficient. This company has found a way to use NON-precious metal (cheaper) and achieve higher surface area, 85% efficiency and produce 10 times more hydrogen than anything else out there. So the real question is… Why would you want to use precious metals?

About the degradation, I am not positive, but I am sure that there is some sort of degradation due to the fact that it is a catalyst, but don’t mark my words. My question is when is a large company going to put this to use instead of using steam reformation.


By Bracelet on 04/11/2010

this drastic improvement in electrolysis efficiency now makes hydrogen an economically and commercially viable replacement for our current fossil fuel economy. With efficiencies like these, we may just see compact electrolysis units inside future automobiles, producing on-demand hydrogen to power on board fuel cells.


By Mark on 10/04/2010

Better electrolysis electrodes: great.
Folks may not understand that, however, that by saying electrolysis is “pollution free” is misleading at best.  If the electricity is made from a CO2-emitting fossil fuel power plant, then electrolysis IS NOT pollution free and that is where 99% of our electricity comes from.
If the electricity comes from wind or solar, there is NO NEED to convert that to hydrogen.
Please be more honest.
Hydrogen-powered fuel cells in cars, okay.
Where’s the power from that drives the electrolysis units?  You cannot say from recharge stations or from home because they use/originate from fossil-fuel electricity.


By Jacob on 05/24/2011

I have always been a supporter of hydrogen energy overall, but I do agree that the process in which we produce the required form of hydrogen needed is not very clean.  As for the future, I am curious as to whether or not the government will provide tax incentives for the manufacturing industry to transfer to using hydrogen energy.  I could see how this would help industries that produce products such as structural plastics, chemical liquids, as well as others.


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