NUS researchers find new method to make hydrogen from water

Unexpected scientific findings from a team of academics at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have the potential to completely alter how water is broken down to liberate hydrogen.

The group discovered that a catalytic material that is widely used in the electrolysis of water, which converts water into hydrogen and oxygen, has a new mechanism that may be activated by light. The end result is a hydrogen production process that uses less energy. The new discovery may pave the way for new and improved industrial processes for creating hydrogen, bringing this sustainable fuel source within reach of more individuals and businesses.

The unintentional discovery

Associate Professor Xue Jun Min and his group might not have made such an important finding under regular circumstances. But almost three years ago, they were able to witness something that the rest of the world’s scientific community had not yet been able to achieve thanks to an unintentional power outage of his lab’s ceiling lights.

At that time, Assoc Prof Xue’s research lab’s ceiling lights were typically left on all day. The lights went out one evening in 2019 owing to a power trip. The performance of a nickel oxyhydroxide-based material in the water electrolysis experiment, which had continued in the dark, had significantly decreased when the researchers returned the next day, they discovered.

The electro-catalytic mechanism of water electrolysis has been extensively studied, and nickel-based materials are frequently used as catalysts. Therefore, Assoc Prof Xue and his colleagues conducted a number of repeated experiments to demonstrate that they were about to make a ground-breaking discovery. They looked more closely at the mechanisms underlying such a behavior. To be sure that their results were consistent, they even conducted the experiment again outside of Singapore. After waiting three years, Associate Professor Xue and his group were finally able to publish their findings in a publication.

Next actions

With their findings in hand, the team is currently devising a fresh approach to enhance industrial processes that produce hydrogen. Assoc Prof Xue suggests making the water-filled cells transparent in order to allow light to enter the water splitting process.

Unsaturated oils and fats are converted into saturated ones by food firms using hydrogen gas, giving us margarine and butter. Due of its ability to produce a temperature as high as 4,000 degrees Celsius, hydrogen is also utilized to join metals. The gas is used by the petroleum sector to purge oil of its sulfur content.

Hydrogen may also be utilized as fuel in the future. Hydrogen fuel, long hailed as a sustainable fuel, is cleaner and greener than other fuel sources since it burns without emitting any emissions when combining with oxygen. In addition to being more dependable than solar-powered batteries, it is also simpler to store.