Los Alamos National Lab (LANL) scientists used water doped with hydrazine in a transition metal dichalcogenides electrocatalyst. The new concept presents one of the best hydrogen water splitting electrocatalyst processes to date and also opens up a whole new direction for research in electrochemistry and semiconductor device physics.

Hydrazine Doped Water in a Transition Metal Dichalcogenides Electrocatalyst Rig. Image Credit: LANL. Click image for the largest view.

Hydrazine Doped Water in a Transition Metal Dichalcogenides Electrocatalyst Rig. Image Credit: LANL. Click image for the largest view.

The LANL scientists are working on understanding how to use a simple, room-temperature treatment to drastically change the properties of materials that may well lead to a revolution in renewable fuels production and electronic applications.

Its actually a spectacular development in the hydrogen field. No precious metals involved.

Gautam Gupta, project leader at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the Light to Energy team of the Lab’s Materials Synthesis and Integrated Devices group said, “We demonstrate in our study that a simple chemical treatment, in this case a drop of dilute hydrazine (N2H4) in water, can dope electrons directly to a semiconductor, creating one of the best hydrogen-evolution electrocatalysts.”

The scientific team’s research paper has been published in Nature Communications that is not behind a paywall at this writing.

The press release explains, “In the 2015 movie ‘The Martian,’ stranded astronaut Matt Damon turns to the chemistry of rocket fuel, hydrazine and hydrogen, to create lifesaving water and nearly blows himself up. But if you turn the process around and get the hydrazine to help, you create hydrogen from water by changing conductivity in a semiconductor, a transformation with wide potential applications in energy and electronics.”

In recent years, the materials science community has grown more interested in the electrical and catalytic properties of layered transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs). TMDs are primarily metal sulfides and selenides (e.g., MoS2) with a layered structure, similar to graphite; this layered structure allows for unique opportunities, and challenges, in modifying electrical properties and functionality.

Gupta and Aditya Mohite, a physicist with a doctorate in electrical engineering, have been pioneering work at Los Alamos seeking to understand the electrical properties of TMDs and use that knowledge to optimize these semiconductors for renewable fuels production.

In this work, MoS2 shell — MoOx core nanowires, as well as pure MoS2 particles and 2D sheets — are tested for electrocatalysis of the hydrogen evolution reaction. The addition of dilute hydrazine to MoS2 significantly improves the electrocatalytic performance. Further characterization shows that the MoS2 changes from semiconducting behavior to having more metallic properties following the hydrazine exposure.

“The most interesting thing about this result is that it is different than conventional doping, where actual chemicals are added to a semiconductor to change its charge carrier concentration. In the case of hydrazine treatment, we are ‘doping’ electrons directly to the material, without modifying the original chemistry,” said Dustin Cummins, first author on this project, currently a postdoctoral researcher in the Laboratory’s Sigma Division working on the DOE/NNSA CONVERT Program exploring fuel fabrication for next-generation reactors.

Cummins first found the hydrogen-production result working with Gupta at Los Alamos as a graduate student research affiliate from the University of Louisville (advisor: Dr. Mahendra Sunkara) and he continued to conduct experiments and refine discussion while working as a postdoc.

“Hydrazine acting as an electron dopant in inorganic semiconductors has been observed since the 1970s, but there is limited understanding of the process,” Cummins noted. “Our biggest hurdle was to prove to that hydrazine was actually changing the conductivity of the MoS2 system, and that is what results in increased catalytic activity,” which was demonstrated on single-flake devices, he said.

Multiple areas of Los Alamos staff expertise in layered semiconductors, chemistry, spectroscopy, electrical device fabrication and more all came together to provide some of the best understanding and mechanism to date for hydrazine acting as an electron dopant.

Gupta discussed the paper saying, This paper, “Efficient Hydrogen Evolution in Transition Metal Dichalcogenides via a Simple One-Step Hydrazine Reaction,” not only presents one of the best hydrogen water splitting electrocatalysts to date, but also “it opens up a whole new direction for research in electrochemistry and semiconductor device physics in general.”

This technology is on its way. The team said, “For commercialization and technologically viable use of TMDs for hydrogen production, thermal stability and long-term durability are required.” The technology isn’t ready yet, but the potential in cutting the costs of freeing hydrogen for fuel use is huge. Its an effort worthy of congratulations and more encouragement.


1 Comment so far

  1. Anirudh gupta on June 19, 2016 2:44 PM

    Greetings Mr Gupta. Join ISRO.

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