Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have developed a new water-splitting process with a material that maximizes the efficiency of producing hydrogen. The researchers expect to make it an affordable and accessible option for industrial partners that want to convert to green hydrogen for renewable energy storage instead of conventional, carbon-emitting hydrogen production from natural gas.

The Georgia Tech findings come as climate experts agree that hydrogen will be critical for the world’s top industrial sectors to achieve their net-zero emission goals. Last summer, the Biden Administration set a goal to reduce the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% in one decade. Dubbed the Hydrogen Shot, the Department of Energy-led initiative seeks to cut the cost of “clean” or green hydrogen to $1 per kilogram by 2030.

Researchers at Georgia Tech observe hydrogen and oxygen gases generated from a water-splitting reactor. Image Credit: Georgia Tech. Click image for the largest view.

The focus of the research is electrolysis, or the process of using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Georgia Tech’s research team hopes to make green hydrogen less costly and more durable using hybrid materials for the electrocatalyst. Today, the process relies on expensive noble metal components such as platinum and iridium, the preferred catalysts for producing hydrogen through electrolysis at scale. These elements are expensive and rare, which has stalled the move to replace natural gas for hydrogen-based power. According to market research firm Wood Mackenzie green hydrogen accounted for less than 1% of annual hydrogen production in 2020, in large part because of this expense.

Study principal investigator Seung Woo Lee, associate professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, and an expert on electrochemical energy storage and conversion systems said, “Our work will decrease the use of those noble metals, increasing its activity as well as utilization options.”

In the research paper published in the journal Applied Catalysis B: Environmental and Energy & Environmental Science, Lee and his team highlighted the interactions between metal nanoparticles and metal oxide to support design of high-performance hybrid catalysts.

Lee explained, “We designed a new class of catalyst where we came up with a better oxide substrate that uses less of the noble elements. These hybrid catalysts showed superior performance for both oxygen and hydrogen (splitting).”

Their work relied upon computation and modeling from research partner, the Korea Institute of Energy Research, and X-ray measurement from Kyungpook National University and Oregon State University, which leveraged the country’s synchrotron, a football-field-sized super x-ray.

Lee described the work, “Using the X-ray, we can monitor the structural changes in the catalyst during the water-splitting process, at the nanometer scale. We can investigate their oxidation state or atomic configurations under operating conditions.”

Jinho Park, a research scientist at GTRI and a leading investigator of the research, said this research could help lower the barrier of equipment cost used in green hydrogen production. Besides developing hybrid catalysts, the researchers have fine tuned the ability to control the catalysts’ shape as well as the interaction of metals. Key priorities were reducing the use of the catalyst in the system and at the same time, increasing its durability since the catalyst accounts for a major part of the equipment cost.

Park explained, “We want to use this catalyst for a long time without degrading its performance. Our research is not only focused on making the new catalyst, but also on understanding the reaction mechanics behind it. We believe that our efforts will help support fundamental understanding of the water splitting reaction on the catalysts and will provide significant insights to other researchers in this field.”

A key finding, according to Park, was the role of the catalyst’s shape in producing hydrogen. “The surface structure of the catalyst is very important to determine if it’s optimized for the hydrogen production. That’s why we try to control the shape of the catalyst as well as the interaction between the metals and the substrate material.”

Park said some of the key applications positioned to benefit first include hydrogen stations for fuel cell electric vehicles, which today only operate in the state of California, and microgrids, a new community approach to designing and operating electric grids that rely on renewable-driven backup power.

While research is well underway to an ending stage, the team is currently working with partners to explore new materials for efficient hydrogen production using artificial intelligence (AI).


This is another step forward as one described in yesterday’s posting. One does wonder what commercial process engineers are thinking – likely some of the ideas we see here are getting tested. But there is a hard wall of sunken investment and operating costs to be considered, with numbers without doubts. One of the ideas we see on the pages here are sure to make it someday – and we may not hear about it.


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