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Hydrogen Production without the Precious Metal

An international research team involving the universities of Adelaide and Queensland, Deakin University and the Queensland University of Technology has used the Australian Synchrotron to investigate a metal-free catalyst that can rival the production of hydrogen using expensive metallic catalysts.

Currently, the most effective way to produce hydrogen from water uses platinum catalysts that provide a surface that can temporarily hold hydrogen ions liberated from water molecules until two protons can combine with two electrons to form a hydrogen gas molecule.

The new catalyst combines graphitic-carbon nitride with nitrogen-doped graphene, both of which form regular 2D structures that can be stacked or joined to make larger arrays.

The collaborators believe this is the world’s first metal-free hybrid catalyst for electrocatalytic production of hydrogen. The catalyst’s properties appear to stem from chemical bonds and other interactions between the graphitic-carbon nitride and the nitrogen-doped graphene components.

The researchers used the Synchrotron’s soft X-ray absorption spectroscopy beamline to probe the interactions between the graphitic-carbon nitride and the nitrogen-doped graphene.

In a paper published in Nature Communications, the researchers say their findings provide clear evidence that “well-designed metal-free counterparts ... have great potential for highly efficient electrocatalytic evolution of hydrogen” similar to precious metals.

They say that the interactions that take place between graphitic-carbon nitride and nitrogen-doped graphene open up “a new avenue towards replacing noble metals by broader alternatives in a wide variety of applications”.