University of Surrey researchers have found that a type of metal-free catalysts could contribute to the development of cost-effective and sustainable hydrogen production technologies.

The results entitled ‘First-Principles Microkinetic Modeling Unraveling the Performance of Edge-Decorated Nanocarbons for Hydrogen Production from Methane’ have been published at ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

The study has shown promising results for the use of edge-decorated nano carbons as metal-free catalysts for the direct conversion of methane, which is also a powerful greenhouse gas, into hydrogen. Among the nano carbons investigated, nitrogen-doped nano carbons presented the highest level of performance for hydrogen production at high temperatures.

Action graphic of metal free catalyst on methane. Image Credit: University of Surrey. There is a very large image in the press release. The study paper is not behind a paywall at posting time.

Crucially, the researchers also found that the nitrogen-doped and phosphorus-doped nano carbons had strong resistance to carbon poisoning, which is a common issue with catalysts in this process.

Dr Neubi Xavier Jr, the research fellow who performed the material science simulations, said, “Our results suggest that using edge-decorated nano carbons as catalysts could be a game-changer for the hydrogen industry, offering a cost-effective and sustainable alternative to traditional metal catalysts. At the same time, this process gets rid of methane, which is a fossil fuel involved in global warming.”

Hydrogen fuel is a clean and renewable energy source that has the potential to reduce carbon emissions and decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. When used as a fuel, hydrogen can power vehicles, generate electricity, and heat buildings. The only by-product of hydrogen fuel is water vapor, making it an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional fossil fuels.

However, the production of hydrogen fuel is currently reliant on fossil fuels, which creates carbon emissions in the process, and metal catalysts, which mining and manufacturing are energy intensive and can negatively affect the environment. Therefore, the development of sustainable hydrogen production methods and catalytic materials is crucial to realizing the full potential of hydrogen fuel as a clean energy source.

The research was conducted by a team led by Dr Marco Sacchi from the University of Surrey, an expert in the field of sustainable energy and computational chemistry, who combined quantum chemistry, thermodynamics and chemical kinetics to determine the most efficient edge decoration for hydrogen production.

Dr Sacchi said, “One of the biggest challenges with catalysts for hydrogen production is that they can get poisoned by carbon. But our study found that nitrogen and phosphorus-doped nano carbons are pretty resistant to this problem. This is a huge step forward for sustainable hydrogen production.”


While it is a bad thing to be venting methane out into the atmosphere, methane is a great store of energy and produces more heat and light energy by mass than other hydrocarbons. That could be because methane is one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms.

When it comes to storing hydrogen methane is a good choice. Nature had that figured out hundreds of millions of years ago.

What’s not said in the press release is where those carbon atoms end up. There seem to be choices in the study paper. For now lets say the CH2CH2 ethylene double bound molecules as a chemical (there is quite a large worldwide market for ethylene) would need remade into something(s) civilization or nature can use to their benefit. For now, answers like carbon monoxide for industrial processes or carbon dioxide for plant sustainability won’t go with the hysterical anti carbon crowd. The next step looks critical for the process to find true usefulness. The next step could prove to be a driver of the process.

On the other hand, this information could be an alternative to the current tech of extracting the hydrogen from methane. That tech is still the low cost leader for making hydrogen fuel. It will be interesting to see how this progresses over the coming years.


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