A non-precious metal hydrogen catalyst in a commercial polymer electrolyte membrane electrolyser


We demonstrate the translation of a low-cost, non-precious metal cobalt phosphide (CoP) catalyst from 1 cm2 lab-scale experiments to a commercial-scale 86 cm2 polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolyser. A two-step bulk synthesis was adopted to produce CoP on a high-surface-area carbon support that was readily integrated into an industrial PEM electrolyser fabrication process. The performance of the CoP was compared head to head with a platinum-based PEM under the same operating conditions (400 psi, 50 °C). CoP was found to be active and stable, operating at 1.86 A cm−2 for >1,700 h of continuous hydrogen production while providing substantial material cost savings relative to platinum. This work illustrates a potential pathway for non-precious hydrogen evolution catalysts developed in past decades to translate to commercial applications.

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Fig. 1: Physical and electrochemical characterization of the CoP catalyst.
Fig. 2: PEM electrolyser performance.

Data availability

The X-ray diffraction reference pattern is available from the Materials Project database under the ID mp-22270. Source data for figures is provided along with the paper as a supplemental file. Additional data that supports the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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We acknowledge the Department of Defence Small Business Innovation Research Phase I (contract no. N00024-17-P-4507; topic no. N162-107) for financial support and the project manager J. Manney. Fundamental catalyst development efforts were supported by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Chemical Sciences, Geosciences and Biosciences Division, Catalysis Science Programme through the SUNCAT Centre for Interface Science and Catalysis. Physical characterization of the catalyst in this work was performed at the Stanford Nano Shared Facilities, supported by the National Science Foundation (award no. ECCS-1542152). We thank R. Chin for his assistance with SEM at this facility. M.A.H. acknowledges the support of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Author information

L.A.K. and M.A.H. contributed equally to this work and are the primary authors of the manuscript. L.A.K., M.A.H. and T.R.H. synthesized CoP catalysts. L.A.K. performed XRD and SEM characterization. E.V. performed TEM characterization. M.A.H. performed electrochemical lab-scale characterization and testing. C.C., J.M. and N.D. prepared all PEM stack components, assembled and tested the electrolyser and collected all operational data. T.F.J. and K.A. supervised the work. All authors contributed to data analysis and discussions, including manuscript preparation and editing.

Correspondence to Thomas F. Jaramillo.

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Peer review information Nature Nanotechnology thanks Foteini Sapountzi and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Figs. 1–9, Tables 1–4 and refs. 1–8.

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King, L.A., Hubert, M.A., Capuano, C. et al. A non-precious metal hydrogen catalyst in a commercial polymer electrolyte membrane electrolyser. Nat. Nanotechnol. 14, 1071–1074 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41565-019-0550-7

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