Argonne's X-Ray Shines Light on Efficient Hydrogen Production

May 8, 2023
High-powered beam provides insight into the properties of materials that could be used to develop hydrogen more efficiently.

An intense X-ray beam aimed at a single platinum grain could offer insight into more efficient hydrogen production methods.

It’s a process that Argonne National Laboratory researchers are using to understand how materials can enable efficient hydrogen production and use, Argonne National Laboratory said in a May 8 release.

Efficient hydrogen production is key,” says Hoydoo You, an Argonne senior physicist. ​Hydrogen is the lightest energy storage material. Hydrogen can be produced from water using renewable energy or excess energy, transported as a fuel, and converted back to water to produce energy for consumers. Platinum and its alloys are best in catalyzing and boosting the water-splitting process by accelerating the exchange of electrons.”

The research team conducted the experiment at the Advanced Photon Source (APS), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) facility at Argonne. Argonne is the DOE’s multidisciplinary science and engineering research center located in Lemont, Illinois, and is managed by UChicago Argonne.

Researchers at the center aimed an intense X-ray beam onto a platinum grain and collected diffraction patterns from that grain on an X-ray detector. They converted the patterns into images of the sample using customized computer algorithms.

They produced hydrogen in an electrolyzer using a nanodroplet chemical cell, created with a tiny pipette tip, to control the chemical reaction happening on the platinum grain.

The reaction was controlled by applying voltage, directed through an electrolyte in the nano-pipette onto the grain being studied,” says Argonne physicist Matt Highland.

The APS currently delivers X-ray beams that are up to 1 billion times brighter than those used by a dentist, according to the news release. A planned upgrade in 2024 will make the X-ray beams up to 500 times brighter.

The APS upgrade will help us see things happen in real time in the material,” says Argonne physicist Ross Harder. ​Measurement times could become fast enough that we can move from one particle to another, and we could see how they are interacting with the electrochemical environment and each other.” 

paper based on the study was published in American Chemical Society’s Nano Letters.

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