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Cheaper, cleaner fuel in the offing

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London: Here’s an efficient and environmental-friendly way to make cleaner fuel and fertilisers.

Researchers Stanford have successfully used an old chemical for the production of molecular hydrogen (H2) – a compound used extensively in modern industry to manufacture fertilisers and refine crude oil into gasoline.

“We have re-engineered the atomic structure of molybdenum sulfide (moly sulfide) – a cheap and common industrial material – to make it nearly as efficient at electrolysis as the costly platinum,” said Jakob Kibsgaard, Danish post-doctoral researcher at Stanford.


“This finding has the potential to revolutionise industrial hydrogen production,” added Thomas Jaramillo, an assistant professor of chemical engineering.

Since ages, petroleum engineers have used moly sulfide to help refine oil.

Kibsgaard found a 30-year-old recipe for making a form of moly sulfide with lots of double-bonded sulfurs at the edge.

Using simple chemistry, he synthesised nanoclusters of this special moly sulfide.

He then deposited these nanoclusters onto a sheet of graphite, a material that conducts electricity.

Together, the graphite and moly sulfide formed a cheap electrode.

“It was meant to be a substitute for platinum, the ideal but expensive catalyst for electrolysis,” said Kibsgaard in a paper published in Nature Chemistry.

Can this composite electrode efficiently spur the chemical reaction that rearranges hydrogen and oxygen atoms in water?

“Chemistry is all about where electrons want to go, and catalysis is about getting those electrons to move to make and break chemical bonds,” Jaramillo said.

In electrolysis, electrical current flows through a metallic electrode immersed in water. This electron flow induces a chemical reaction that breaks the bonds between hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

The electrode serves as a catalyst, a material that can spur one reaction after another without ever being used up.

“With this finding, we can get huge returns by moving from carbon-intensive resources to renewable, sustainable technologies to produce the chemicals we need for food and energy,” said Flemming Besenbacher, a professor at the Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center (iNANO) at Aarhus University in Denmark.