Extracting hydrogen from water through electrolysis offers a promising way to increase the production of hydrogen, a clean and environmentally friendly fuel. However, a major challenge in water electrolysis is the slow reaction of oxygen at the anode, known as the oxygen evolution reaction (OER).

A collaboration between researchers from Hunan University and Shenzhen University in China has resulted in a discovery that promises to improve the OER process. In her recent article published in KeAi-Journal Green energy & environmentThey report that etching – or in other words chemically removing – the oxide coatings that form on the surface of the metal phosphide electrocatalysts that are regularly used in electrolysis can increase OER efficiency.

Professor Shuangyin Wang of the State Key Laboratory for Chem / Bio-Sensing and Chemometrics at Hunan University led the study. He explains, “While metal phosphides are widely used as catalysts because of their unique physicochemical properties such as high conductivity, terrestrial abundance reserves, and excellent performance, a common but often neglected fact is that they rapidly undergo atmospheric oxidation when exposed to air. This causes them to form oxide coatings on their surface which can alter the surface reconstruction process and confuse the structure-performance relationship. “

To solve this problem, Professor Wang and his colleagues decided to etch these oxide coatings using a dielectric barrier discharge plasma technique. And they discovered that the etching process not only accelerated the surface reconstruction process, but also significantly increased the formation of metal hydroxides and the OER activity.

Prof. Wang: “These results are helpful in understanding the structure-performance relationship of metal phosphides in the electro-oxidation reaction. And we suspect that the same etching process can potentially be used for other oxygen-sensitive metal compounds such as chalcogenides, nitrides, and carbides.

“We hope that our study will guide the rational design and engineering of more efficient electrocatalysts for water electrolysis.”

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Contact the main author of the newspaper: Shuangyin Wang, [email protected]

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