Hydrogel nanocomposite developed recently for bulk hydrogen generation

A new photocatalytic platform for the mass production of hydrogen has been developed by a team led by Prof. Hyeon Taeghwan at the Center for Nanoparticle Research at the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) in Seoul, South Korea.

Distributed in Nature Nanotechnology, the gathering’s concentration on the photocatalytic stage prompted the improvement of a floatable photocatalytic network, which permits an effective hydrogen development response with clear benefits over customary hydrogen creation stages, for example, film or board types.

Due to global issues like climate change and environmental pollution, the importance of alternative energy has recently grown. Hydrogen energy produced through photocatalysis is one of many potential sources for alternative energy because of its ability to produce environmentally friendly and sustainable energy.

As a result, a lot of work has been done to improve photocatalysts’ intrinsic reaction efficiency. However, photocatalytic system form factor research, which is essential for their practical application and commercialization, has not yet been actively pursued.

“The proposed platform can even generate hydrogen from solutions that dissolve household waste, such as polyethylene terephthalate bottles. As a result, the platform could be a solution for garbage recycling, contributing to a more environmentally responsible society.”

Prof. Hyeon Taeghwan at the Center for Nanoparticle Research within the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) in Seoul.

Catalyst powder or nanoparticles are typically fixed onto various submerged platforms, such as particulate sheets, films, and flat panels, by current systems. They also have to deal with practical issues like reverse reactions, the leaching of catalysts, and poor mass transfer. They likewise require extra gadgets to separate and gather the hydrogen produced from water, which adds to the intricacy of the gadget and expands the expenses.

In the hydrogen evolution reaction, floating photocatalytic platforms have clear advantages in terms of efficient light delivery, simple gas separation, increased surface tension, stable catalyst immobilization, suppressed back-oxidation (reverse reaction), and simple water supply. Credit: Institute for Basic Science.

Under the direction of Prof. Hyeon, the team at the Center for Nanoparticle Research in the IBS created a novel kind of photocatalytic platform that floats on water and produces hydrogen efficiently. An upper photocatalytic layer and a lower supporting layer make up the bilayer structure of this new platform.

A structural polymer with a porous structure makes up both layers, giving the platform a high surface tension. Additionally, the platform is constructed of cryoaerogel, a low-density solid filled with gas inside. Consequently, this photocatalyzed elastomer-hydrogel can float in water.

The photocatalytic hydrogen evolution reaction clearly benefits from this platform: to start with, light constriction by water is forestalled, bringing about effective sun-oriented energy change. Second, because the product—hydrogen gas—can be easily dispersed into the air, no reverse oxidation reactions take place, and the high yield of the reaction is maintained. Thirdly, the elastomer-hydrogel matrix’s porosity makes it simple to supply water to the catalysts within. Last but not least, catalysts are securely immobilized within the matrix for trouble-free, long-term operation.

The floatable platform’s superior hydrogen evolution performance over the conventional submerged platform was experimentally demonstrated by the researchers. Moreover, the adaptability of the stage, which is fundamental for likely industrialization, was additionally shown under normal daylight. Using copper single-atom and titania catalysts with an area of 1 m2, the floatable photocatalytic platform was found to be capable of producing approximately 80 mL of hydrogen.

A and B compare the hydrogen evolution performance of a floating and submerged platform. A 1 m2 floatable platform for the production of hydrogen D. Optical picture of the displayed floatable stage with an area of 1 m2. A diagram of the hydrogen production facility with a one-square-meter-wide floating platform Credit: Institute for Basic Science.

The platform’s hydrogen evolution performance remained unaffected even after two weeks of operation in seawater containing a variety of microorganisms and floating matter.

According to Prof. Kim, “The proposed platform can even produce hydrogen from solutions that dissolve household waste, such as bottles made of polyethylene terephthalate.” As a result, the platform has the potential to be a waste recycling solution that contributes to an environmentally friendly society.

Strikingly, this study presents a summarized stage for effective photocatalysis that isn’t simply restricted to hydrogen creation. It is feasible to substitute the reactant part for different uses without changing the floatable aerogel material properties of the general stage. This guarantees that the platform can be used for a wide range of photocatalytic reactions, including the oxygen evolution reaction, the production of hydrogen peroxide, and the production of various organic compounds.

“This study demonstrates the potential of green hydrogen production at sea with world-class performance and makes significant progress in the field of photocatalysis.” According to Prof. Hyeon, “our platform’s distinctive material features, high performance, and broad applicability in the field of photocatalysis will undoubtedly open a new chapter in alternative energy.”

More information: Hyeon Taeghwan et al, Floatable photocatalytic hydrogel nanocomposites for large-scale solar hydrogen production, Nature Nanotechnology (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41565-023-01385-4

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