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Improved catalyst production lowers electrolysis costs

By Mary Page Bailey |

Water electrolysis is widely used for hydrogen production, but there are still high costs associated with manufacturing advanced electrolysis catalysts, which may involve high temperatures and pressures or chemical vapor deposition. Extending research conducted at the University of Kansas’ Bioscience & and Technology Business Center (Lawrence, Kan.; www.btbcku.com), startup company Avium, LLC (www.aviumenergy.com) has developed a new technology that promises to simplify the manufacture of high-performance catalysts for alkaline electrolysis systems.

Avium’s patented synthesis method uses water as its only solvent, and the only energy input is for a microwave heating step, which produces a highly active dual-element matrix (DEM) catalyst structure, explains Joseph Barforoush, Avium chief technology officer. Whereas conventional catalysts depend on precious metals, such as platinum or iridium, Avium’s DEM catalysts utilize pairs of abundant metals, such as nickel and iron. The microwave-synthesis method enables homogenous dispersion of the metals, which helps to maximize the number of active sites in the DEM. “The key to improving catalyst efficiency is that the two elements in the DEM produce a synergistic effect, resulting in faster kinetics than catalysts composed of either single metal alone,” adds Barforoush.

Alkaline electrolysis systems are typically limited in their production capacities when compared to proton-exchange-membrane electrolysis systems, but Avium is working to close this gap while also lowering costs. With funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation, the company is developing a commercial-scale DEM alkaline electrolyzer that can reportedly operate at 2–4 times the production rate of conventional alkaline electrolyzers operating at the same voltage. To achieve this, Avium and KU are working to synthesize its catalysts and fabricate electrodes at an industrial scale, while also continuing ongoing work related to electrode architecture and kinetics. The final goal will be to produce a DEM electrolyzer with a 4-kg/d capacity, which will be demonstrated at a hydrogen refueling station in California.

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