Scientists have discovered a new technique for creating water, using a new catalyst that reacts with both hydrogen and oxygen. The method could lead to the development of less expensive and more efficient hydrogen fuel cells, the energy source of hydrogen vehicles.
The researchers from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign have investigated a variety of different starting materials that could be used to make water. Recently, they found that unconventional metal hydrides, such as iridium-based compounds, have a unique ability: they can react with both the hydrogen and oxygen components of water. Most compounds only react with one or the other.
As doctoral student Zachariah Heiden explains, the iridum catalyst first reacts with hydrogen to form a hydride, and then with oxygen to make water.
This water production process could have an important role in fuel cells, where hydrogen gas enters one side of the cell, and oxygen gas enters the other side. The hydrogen molecules undergo oxidation, where they lose their electrons and become positively charged, while the oxygen molecules undergo reduction, gaining four electrons to become negatively charged. When the hydrogen and oxygen combine to form water, they also release electrical energy.
The new efficient water production method with iridium could hopefully lead to better catalysts and fuel cells, bringing new technology along with it.