April 16, 2024

New System for Producing Green Hydrogen at a Lower Cost and Higher Efficiency

A team of researchers from the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology, IIT) in Genoa and BeDimensional S.p.A. has developed a new system for producing green hydrogen that is cheaper and more efficient. The technology utilizes small ruthenium particles and a solar-powered system for water electrolysis, offering a solution that could significantly reduce the costs of industrial-scale green hydrogen production.

Hydrogen is widely recognized as a sustainable energy source and an alternative to fossil fuels. However, not all hydrogen is created equal in terms of environmental impact. The primary method of hydrogen production today is through methane steam reforming, a process that releases carbon dioxide (CO2) as a by-product. Hydrogen produced by this process is classified as gray (when CO2 is released into the atmosphere) or blue (when CO2 is captured and stored geologically).

To achieve the goal of zero emissions by 2050, it is crucial to replace these processes with more environmentally sustainable methods that yield green hydrogen with net-zero emissions. The cost of green hydrogen depends on the energy efficiency of the electrolyzer, which splits water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.

The joint team of researchers has developed a new method that ensures greater efficiency compared to existing techniques in converting electrical energy into the chemical energy stored in hydrogen molecules. The team has created a catalyst concept using renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, to generate the necessary electrical energy.

“We have shown how it is possible to maximize the efficiency of a robust, well-developed technology despite an initial investment that is slightly greater than what would be needed for a standard electrolyzer. This is because we are using a precious metal such as ruthenium,” said Yong Zuo and Michele Ferri from the Nanochemistry Group at IIT in Genoa.

The researchers utilized ruthenium nanoparticles, a noble metal similar to platinum in its chemical behavior but significantly cheaper. These nanoparticles serve as the active phase of the electrolyzer’s cathode, leading to increased overall efficiency.

“By running electrochemical analyses and tests under industrially significant conditions, we were able to assess the catalytic activity of our materials. Theoretical simulations also allowed us to understand the catalytic behavior of ruthenium nanoparticles at the molecular level, specifically the mechanism of water splitting on their surfaces,” explained Sebastiano Bellani and Marilena Zappia from BeDimensional.

By combining experimental data with additional process parameters, the team conducted a techno-economic analysis that demonstrated the competitiveness of this technology compared to state-of-the-art electrolyzers.

Ruthenium is a precious metal obtained in small quantities as a by-product of platinum extraction. However, it is less expensive than platinum, making it an attractive alternative. The new technology only requires 40 mg of ruthenium per kilowatt, which is significantly less compared to the use of platinum and iridium in proton-exchange membrane electrolyzers.

The researchers at IIT and BeDimensional have improved the efficiency of alkaline electrolyzers by using ruthenium. This technology has been in use for decades due to its durability and robustness. The newly developed family of ruthenium-based cathodes for alkaline electrolyzers exhibits high efficiency and a long operating life, ultimately reducing the production costs of green hydrogen.

In the future, the researchers plan to apply this technology and others, such as nanostructured catalysts based on sustainable two-dimensional materials, in scaled-up electrolyzers powered by renewable energy sources like solar panels. This will further enhance the production of green hydrogen and contribute to a more sustainable energy future.

Overall, the development of this new system for producing green hydrogen holds promise for achieving cost-effective and efficient hydrogen production, which will play a crucial role in transitioning to a greener and more sustainable energy system.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it