Paris, January 10, 2008
Research to improve hydrogen production is based largely on chemical reactions observed during photosynthesis in plants. More specifically, certain micro-organisms produce hydrogen from water with the help of light. To reproduce and adapt these processes, researchers have developed molecular systems capable of both photosensitisation, which captures light energy, and catalysis, which uses the energy collected to liberate hydrogen from water. To date, all the technological systems developed to produce or use hydrogen rely on noble metals(1) such as platinum. But platinum reserves are limited. The metal’s scarcity and cost are obstacles to the long-term financial prospects of hydrogen technologies, despite efforts to reduce the quantities used in electrolysers and fuel cells. Current research focuses on alternatives to platinum, by developing catalysts based on metals which are naturally more abundant and less expensive, such as those used by natural organisms (iron, nickel, cobalt, manganese).
A new system has been developed using a cobalt-based catalyst. Supramolecular in nature, it plays the role of both the photosensitiser and the catalyst. With the help of light, the electrons from the organic molecule are used to liberate hydrogen from water. This is catalysed by cobalt with greater efficiency than comparable systems using noble metals (Pd, Rh and Pt). Ruthenium is still used as the photosensitiser (Ru, left side of the figure); one of the next steps in this work will be finding an alternative.
While the ultimate goal is still to use water as a proton and electron source (to avoid adding an organic molecule), this outcome represents considerable progress towards the photoproduction of hydrogen.
1) Historically, noble metals were the precious metals used to make jewellery (gold, silver, platinum). Chemists define them as metals which do not oxidise easily. Today this term is applied to metals present at low levels in the earth's crust, making them both rare and costly (palladium, rhodium, iridium, osmium and ruthenium)
CEA (French Atomic Energy Commission)
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CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research)
Claire Le Poulennec
+33 (0) 1 44 96 49 88
Université Joseph Fourier
+33 (0) 4 76 51 44 98
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