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An international team of scientists has synthesized a carbon nanowire doped with ruthenium and nitrogen that significantly outperforms conventional platinum-based catalysts for producing hydrogen from water. The team attributes the improved catalytic activity to individual ruthenium atoms embedded in the carbon matrix, rather than the presence of ruthenium nanoparticles.

The ability to generate clean and sustainable energy from hydrogen depends on making electrochemical water splitting cheaper and more efficient. Platinum is currently used as the catalyst of choice for water electrolysis, but it is most efficient in acidic conditions – which are impractical for most applications because they demand expensive proton-exchange membranes. In the preferred alkaline electrolytes, however, the catalytic activity of platinum nanoparticles is some two orders of magnitude lower. As a result, hydrogen production by electrolysis is not competitive enough to be widely used and most hydrogen is industrially obtained by steam-reforming methane.

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Category: Science