Two high school students, twin sisters Shilpa and Shweta Iyer may have found an inexpensive material that can be mixed with molybdenum to make an inexpensive catalyst replacing platinum in water electrolysis. The students tested familiar materials from everyday life, and discovered that soybeans made good catalysts when mixed with molybdenum.
They worked with their class in the discovery, under the supervision of James Muckerman, Wei-Fu Chen. Muckerman, Chen, and colleagues at Brookhaven National Laboratory, New York, have successfully produced a catalyst made from molybdenum – an abundant transition metal, around 1500 times cheaper than platinum – and ground soybeans.
Carbon and nitrogen from the soybean proteins combined with molybdenum to make molybdenum carbide and molybdenum nitride, respectively. ‘Molybdenum carbide itself is active but not stable in acidic solution, while molybdenum nitride is corrosion resistant but not suitable for hydrogen production. Synergy between the two gave a stable composite material,’ explains Muckerman. The cheap and easy to prepare material has excellent long-term durability and it catalyses hydrogen production at efficiencies comparable to a platinum catalyst.
‘Platinum-free catalysts are powerful tools for generating molecular hydrogen as a sustainable fuel source,’ says Henrik Junge, an expert in electrocatalysts for hydrogen production at the Leibniz Institute for Catalysis, Rostock, Germany. He also wonders if other precursors could be used to generate the catalyst. ‘This would avoid discussions about the competitive usage of biomass for food versus chemical feedstocks.’ source
Molybdenum is mined extensively in the United States. And, as for the soybeans, I, for one, would be most likely be willing to forgo tofu and soy milk in order to have the cheap, safe, and abundant energy source of the future.
Better living through chemistry, indeed.