Enabling clean energy solutions through materials science

June 08, 2018

Enabling clean energy solutions through materials science

The motivation – The development of clean energy sources to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels involves improving the efficiency of generating alternative fuels.  For example, electrochemistry can be used to generate environmentally friendly, renewable sources of energy, and in a recent article, Simon Fraser University (SFU) researchers describe how they are working to improve the efficiency of electrochemical systems used to generate alternative fuels using nickel based materials. 

The discovery – The Gates Group has developed a simple method for improving the efficiency of nickel based materials for use in the oxygen evolution reaction used, for example, in systems that generate alternative fuels for fuel-cell systems. This reaction suffers from gas bubbles blocking the surfaces of the electrode surfaces. Many of the approaches in the field tackle this challenge through adjusting the composition of the electrode materials. Nickel based materials are, however, desirable as they are relatively inexpensive and exhibit long-term stability toward these alkaline based reactions. The researchers demonstrated that the inclusion of structured surfaces on the electrodes is sufficient to improve the energy efficiency of this electrochemical reaction.

Its significance – Improvements in the energy efficiency of electrochemical systems for nonfossil-fuel sources of power generation are critical to bringing these technologies into the mainstream market. A more efficient system enables these technologies to better compete with fossil-fuel sources. Ultimately, the savings in energy efficiencies translates into cost savings.

This work is part of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Frontiers Initiative “Ni Electro Can,” which has partners across Canada and around the world seeking to generate engineered nickel catalysts for a variety of electrochemical clean energy applications:

Read the paper – “Hexagonal Arrays of Cylindrical Nickel Microstructures for Improved Oxygen Evolution Reaction” by Paul MTY, Yee BB, Bruce DR, Gates BDACS Appl Mater Interfaces 9(8): 7036-7043 (2017).  doi: 10.1021/acsami.6b14129