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Supporting rational catalyst design for hydrogen energy applications

The need

Many commercial processes rely on rare and expensive chemical elements, such as the platinum group metals (PGMs), as catalysts to facilitate chemical reactions. For example, water electrolysers, used to produce hydrogen as fuel for low-carbon energy applications, often employ platinum and iridium catalysts. Due to the cost and supply risk associated with these economically important materials, there is an urgent demand for new catalysts with reduced PGM content.

To address this need, the Horizon 2020 CritCat project combines computational materials screening, precision catalyst synthesis, rigorous characterisation and reliable performance testing, to enable the theory-driven rational design of catalysts using earth-abundant materials.

The impact

Our expertise in accurate measurement is key to the success of the project. Our primary contribution is the electrochemical testing of a range of catalysts to generate high-fidelity data for 'training' machine-learning algorithms used for new catalyst selection; later, we will assess the performance of new candidate materials predicted by the rational design platform. We have developed a test protocol to accurately assess the activity, stability and durability of catalysts through a variety of electrochemical techniques.

As part of CritCat, we will also further develop new measurement capabilities for in situ chemical characterisation of catalysts using spectroscopic techniques. Using electrochemical Raman spectroscopy, we can characterise catalysts under real electrolysis conditions, allowing us to better understand their chemical evolution during operation.

CritCat will also contribute to scale-up of cluster beam deposition methods for manufacturing catalyst nanoparticles in macroscopic quantities. Together with industrial partners, who bring expertise in prototype development and commercial deployment, the performance of the most promising new catalysts will be demonstrated in a realistic water electrolyser device, among other catalytic technologies.

The development of new catalysts will lower cost and improve sustainability for processes that are currently PGM-reliant, accelerating the uptake of low-carbon hydrogen technologies. Moreover, we project that this new approach to rational catalyst design will contribute to a wide range of other commercial applications.


Electrochemistry research

Electrochemical characterisation service