Illustration by Dina Sheyfer, Argonne National Laboratory
An intense X-ray beam (in pink) is focused into a small spot on a single nanoscale grain of a platinum electrode (highlighted within the droplet). Diffraction interference patterns from that grain were collected on an X-ray detector (the black screen). (Illustration by Dina Sheyfer, Argonne National Laboratory.)

X-Ray Vision for Clean Hydrogen

May 12, 2023
I recently posted an article about a research project at the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory to explore more efficient ways to produce hydrogen. The project involves aiming an intense X-ray beam at a platinum grain. As a follow up, I touched base with Hoydoo You, a senior physicist with the lab, to gain a better understanding of how the process works and its potential benefits for hydrogen production.

Can you please clarify how this will help advance the development of clean hydrogen production? 

HY: In electrolysis, pairs of water molecules split into pairs of hydrogen molecules in the hydrogen electrode (cathode) and into oxygen molecules in the oxygen electrode (anode) to maintain a balance. While it is relatively easy to make two hydrogen molecules, it is much more difficult to make the accompanying oxygen molecules for reasons that are not very well understood. The development of the nano-droplet electrochemistry cell is the first step to understand why it is difficult and ultimately to answer how to overcome these challenges. 

What is the primary challenge that you’re looking to help the industry address?

HY: [A] clear understanding of why oxygen formation is sluggish and why it degrades over a period of time can help us better determine  how to rationally redesign the anodes, made of Pt, Ru, Ir or their respective oxides, to improve the efficiencies and how to make them more durable. This information can be used in industry to make more durable and efficient catalysts in the cell, which will ultimately lower their costs.

As CP has reported, green hydrogen shows promise as a potential clean-energy source for the chemical industry. Hydrogen demand from the chemical industry could at least double by 2050. Major chemical producers, such as Exxon Mobil and Chemours, have made investments in clean-hydrogen technologies in the past year.

But cost is a hurdle the industry must address to produce and consume green hydrogen at scale. As CP Editor-at-Large Seán Ottewell pointed out in his monthly “End Point” column, “the Achilles heel of hydrogen processes” is their inefficiency.

The research at Argonne and similar efforts around the world are becoming increasingly important as demand for hydrogen power continues to grow. Click here to read more about the Argonne project. 

About the Author

Jonathan Katz | Executive Editor

Jonathan Katz, executive editor, brings nearly two decades of experience as a B2B journalist to Chemical Processing magazine. He has expertise on a wide range of industrial topics. Jon previously served as the managing editor for IndustryWeek magazine and, most recently, as a freelance writer specializing in content marketing for the manufacturing sector.

His knowledge areas include industrial safety, environmental compliance/sustainability, lean manufacturing/continuous improvement, Industry 4.0/automation and many other topics of interest to the Chemical Processing audience.

When he’s not working, Jon enjoys fishing, hiking and music, including a small but growing vinyl collection.

Jon resides in the Cleveland, Ohio, area.

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