A low-cost nickel-based material could replace platinum as the catalyst that drives the electrolysis of water, the key reaction that powers hydrogen fuel cells.
Vincent Artero at Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, Serge Palacin at the French Atomic Energy Commission in Gif-sur-Yvette and their colleagues took a nickel-based catalyst that mimics hydrogenase enzymes and attached it to the surface of multiwalled carbon nanotubes to increase the catalyst's surface area. The researchers then tested the material using a proton-exchange membrane to produce hydrogen from a water-based sulphuric acid solution.
Their system was about 100 times less efficient than a commercially available platinum-based one. But previous enzyme-inspired catalysts worked only in organic solvents, whereas this one is stable under real fuel cell conditions, the authors say.