Researchers at the Queensland University of Technology have discovered cheaper and more efficient materials for producing hydrogen for the storage of renewable energy that could replace current water-splitting catalysts.

Most hydrogen is now produced from fossil carbon sources and results in the release of a lot of carbon dioxide.

The alternative is to electrochemically split water using electricity from renewable energy technology. This produces high-purity hydrogen but currently depends on catalysts which are very expensive because they depend on materials such as platinum, iridium and ruthenium.

The Queensland University of Technology team, led by Professor Anthony O’Mullane, has developed a new composite material which enables electrochemical water splitting into hydrogen and oxygen using cheap and readily available elements – cobalt and nickel oxide with minute amounts of gold nanoparticles.

Professor O’Mullane said that “Fuel cells are a mature technology, already being rolled out in many makes of vehicle. They use hydrogen and oxygen as fuels to generate electricity — essentially the opposite of water splitting. With a lot of cheaply ‘made’ hydrogen we can feed fuel cell-generated electricity back into the grid when required during peak demand or power our transportation system and the only thing emitted is water.”