The team used natural catalysts to develop a low-cost, environmentally friendly way of producing hydrogen

April 02, 2023

(Nanowerk News) Experts from Swansea and Grenoble have teamed up to develop a practical way to generate environmentally friendly hydrogen using sustainable catalysts.

The researchers now hope their work will be a major step toward making green hydrogen production simpler, more affordable, and more scalable.

Dr Moritz Kuehnel, senior lecturer in Swansea University’s chemistry department, said: “In our work we use natural enzymes – hydrogenases – to produce green hydrogen using sunlight. Unlike synthetic catalysts which are based on precious metals such as platinum, hydrogenases contain only abundant elements such as iron and nickel. However, these enzymes are very sensitive and rapidly inactivated on exposure to air, making their practical use nearly impossible.”

The team has now developed an engineered solvent that would allow the hydrogenase to function in air. Putting it in this solvent instead of water makes it more active and more stable, making it practically usable in air to produce hydrogen.

Dr Christine Cavazza, senior scientist at CEA Grenoble, added: “We integrated synthetic nanoparticles with natural enzymes into so-called hybrid materials, which combine the best of both worlds to achieve superior new functionality. TiO2 nanoparticles are very good at using sunlight to generate charges and hydrogenases are very efficient at using these charges to produce green hydrogen.

“Combining the two makes it possible to produce green hydrogen efficiently from sunlight, something separate components are not capable of.”

This research brings together Swansea University’s expertise in photocatalysis, solvent design and its focus on providing practical solutions to complex problems and combines this with the knowledge of extracting natural enzymes and harnessing them for renewable energy conversion at the Commission on Alternative Energy and Atomic Energy (CEA) and the University of Grenoble Alpes (UGA). ).

The collaboration comes as a result of Swansea’s strategic partnership with UGA. The researchers’ findings have just been published by Applied chemistry (“Improving Hydrogenase Performance for Aerobic Photocatalytic Hydrogen Evolution through Solvent Tuning”).

Dr Alan Le Goff, senior scientist at CNRS Grenoble said: “This work is an inspiring example of how combining the expertise of multiple partners in international collaboration can lead to great research advances.”

Green hydrogen is needed as a fuel for the decarbonization of transportation – especially HGV, long-haul aviation, the marine sector where electrification is not possible – as well as the chemical industry, especially fertilizer production, and for the energy sector.

However, the current cost of producing green hydrogen limits its use on a large scale so this research is very important for the future.

Using a sustainable catalyst such as hydrogenase instead of expensive platinum can lower the cost of the electrolyzer and fuel cell, making green hydrogen cheaper to produce and use. This also reduces dependence on imports which can be disrupted by external factors.

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