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A novel ruthenium-based catalyst developed at UC Santa Cruz has shown markedly better performance than commercial platinum catalysts in alkaline water electrolysis for hydrogen production. The catalyst is a nanostructured composite material composed of carbon nanowires with ruthenium atoms bonded to nitrogen and carbon to form active sites within the carbon matrix.

The electrochemical splitting of water to produce hydrogen is a crucial step in the development of hydrogen as a clean, environmentally friendly fuel. Much of the effort to reduce the cost and increase the efficiency of this process has focused on finding alternatives to expensive platinum-based catalysts.

At UC Santa Cruz, researchers led by Shaowei Chen, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, have been investigating catalysts made by incorporating ruthenium and nitrogen into carbon-based nanocomposite materials. Their new findings, published February 7 in Nature Communications, not only demonstrate the impressive performance of their ruthenium-based catalyst but also provide insights into the mechanisms involved, which may lead to further improvements.

"This is a clear demonstration that ruthenium can have remarkable activity in catalyzing the production of hydrogen from water," Chen said. "We also characterized the material on the atomic scale, which helped us understand the mechanisms, and we can use these results for the rational design and engineering of ruthenium-based catalysts."

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Category: Science