KU Leuven, EnergyVille and imec nanomaterial helps in green hydrogen production

Researchers from EnergyVille partners KU Leuven and imec have pushed the boundaries of nanotechnology.

They created a compact, superporous nanomaterial that supports effective electrochemical processes. The study’s findings mark a significant advancement in the goal of enabling electrolysis’s cost-effective hydrogen production.

To meet the climate targets, it will be necessary to produce green molecules like green hydrogen on a massive scale. There is no other way to produce fertilizers without using any carbon, or to decarbonize the steel and cement sectors. Green hydrogen is anticipated to be extremely important in industries like long-distance transportation that are challenging to electrify.
Currently, gray hydrogen is primarily produced, which emits CO2, while green hydrogen only has a small market share. There are still a number of technological obstacles to be addressed before green hydrogen can be produced on a wide scale and affordably.

Water electrolysis creates green hydrogen. The critical reaction occurs on the electrode surface in an electrolyser. The efficiency with which hydrogen gas may be evacuated from the reaction surfaces depends on how porous the electrode material is. In recent years, Imec and KU Leuven, collaborators in EnergyVille, have created a novel material that is not only incredibly porous but also compresses an incredibly large reactive surface into a compact space (26 m2/cm3). Under an electron microscope, the material consists of threads that are 40 nanometers wide (one thousandth of a hair) and has a three-dimensional chicken wire appearance.

Up until recently, a non-porous container was required to hold the nanomaterial in place. This gave the system the required robustness, but it also made it difficult for chemicals to enter the system and for hydrogen gas to exit, limiting the utilization of the nanomaterial’s great potential. With a porous construction that is open on all sides, the researchers have now entirely opened up this carrier. Using this as a foundation, they created a nickel electrode that they utilized to experimentally show that the nearly whole theoretical surface area is also effectively used during the electrochemical reactions.

More hydrogen is produced when more current is passed through an electrolysis cell, but there are also higher energy efficiency losses as a result. This issue is solved by the nanomaterial, which can handle tens of times higher current densities for the same energy efficiency than ordinary nickel electrodes. Because of this, the nanomaterial has a higher yield than typical porous substitutes.