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Brian Westenhaus

Brian Westenhaus

Brian is the editor of the popular energy technology site New Energy and Fuel. The site’s mission is to inform, stimulate, amuse and abuse the…

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Schottky Junction Electrode Revolutionizes Seawater Electrolysis

  • The new electrode design overcomes the low electrical conductivity issue of (oxy)hydroxide catalysts, improving hydrogen and oxygen evolution reactions.
  • The electrode combines metallic nickel-tungsten nitride (Ni-W5N4) and semiconducting nickel-iron (oxy)hydroxide (NiFeOOH) to form a Schottky junction, boosting water splitting ability.
  • This innovation can sustainably produce hydrogen from seawater, operating continuously for 10 days, showing potential for replacing fossil fuel-dependent methods.
Seawater

Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology researchers have now designed an electrode with Schottky Junction formed at the interface of metallic Ni-W5N4 and semiconducting NiFeOOH. The design overcomes the often shown poor performance of electrochemical catalysts used in water due to low electrical conductance of (oxy)hydroxide species produced in situ.

Green hydrogen (or H2) produced from renewable energy resources is expected to be the fuel of a decarbonized future. Electrolysis or splitting of water into oxygen and hydrogen with the help of an electrochemical cell is one of the most popular ways of producing green H2.

(Strangely, the press release site expressly prohibits reposting images. However the study paper is open access.)

Its a simple reaction, ensures high-quality products, and has zero carbon emissions. Despite its advantages, however, electrochemical water splitting is yet to gain prominence on a commercial scale. This is because of the low electrical conductivity of active (oxy)hydroxide catalysts generated in situ during the electrochemical processes. This, in turn, leads to restricted catalytic activity, hampering hydrogen as well as oxygen evolution reactions in the cell.

The problem of (oxy)hydroxide’s poor electrical properties has been a long-standing challenge towards the achievement of efficient water splitting.

A team of researchers led by Associate Professor Junhyeok Seo from the Department of Chemistry at Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, have found a solution to this issue in the form of Schottky junctions.

In a recent study made available online and to be published in Volume 340 of the Applied Catalysis B: Environmental journal in January 2024, they demonstrated an electrode with Schottky junction formed at the interface of metallic nickel-tungsten nitride (Ni-W5N4) and semiconducting n-type nickel-iron (oxy)hydroxide (NiFeOOH) catalyst.

This electrode was able to overcome the conductance limit of (oxy)hydroxide and improved the water splitting ability of the setup.

Notably, two materials, a metal and a semiconductor, with largely different electronic behaviors were put in contact to make an energy difference at the interface, forming a junction.

Dr. Seo, highlighting the core mechanism behind their newly designed electrode, explained, “Our research utilized this potential energy barrier present in the Schottky junction to accelerate electron flow in the electrode, leading to a significant increase in oxygen evolution reaction activity, expediting overall water splitting.”

Upon carrying out electrocatalytic water splitting, the team observed that Ni-W5N4 alloy catalyzed the hydrogen evolution reaction, resulting in 10 mA/cm2 current density at a small overpotential of 11 mV. Furthermore, the rectifying Schottky junction formed at the interface of Ni-W5N4|NiFeOOH nullified the non-conductive lamination produced by (oxy)hydroxide species.

In forward bias, it exhibited a current density of 11 mA/cm2 at 181 mV overpotential.

The electrochemical analysis of the electrode revealed that the improved catalytic activity could indeed be attributed to the Schottky junction.

Lastly, the researchers designed an electrolyzer using their Schottky junction electrode for industrial seawater electrolysis.

They found that the new device could operate continuously for 10 days, while also exhibiting outstanding catalytic activity and durability during electrolysis.

It showed a remarkable current density of 100 mA/cm2 at an overpotential of just 230 mV.

Overall, the researchers believe that these findings can contribute toward a sustainable strategy for hydrogen production to eventually replace conventional methods that still rely on fossil fuels.

Dr. Seo concluded, “Freshwater and seawater are abundant and renewable sources of protons. Efficient water splitting systems ensure that we can establish sustainable production of zero carbon hydrogen fuel, thus helping manage our current climate problems.”

The press release ends with, “Let us hope that the successful demonstration of Ni-W5N4|NiFeOOH electrode for water splitting opens up new avenues for Schottky junction-based durable and high-performance energy storage and conversion systems!”

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***

There is a lot of performance improvement in this new innovation. That and a 240 life cycle adds to the positive outlook.

The direct comparison to steam reforming isn’t noted, which suggests that while much closer the performance might not be there to overcome steam’s advantage.

That 10 day lifetime is an attention getting quality. One has to wonder what the cost might be involved to recycle/rebuild a catalyst set and return it to work.

By Brian Westenhaus via New Energy and Fuel

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