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Single-atom platinum catalyst efficiently generates hydrogen from methanol

Study advances methanol as hydrogen carrier for fuel-cell automobile use

by Mitch Jacoby
December 1, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 47

A ball and stick model showing how methanol is converted to hydrogen on a ceria-based catalyst.
Credit: J. Am. Chem. Soc.
Isolated platinum atoms anchored on ceria, convert methanol to hydrogen. Pt = blue; C = gray; H = white; O = red; Ce = yellow.

Fuel-cell automobiles powered with clean-burning hydrogen are slowly being commercialized for private use. The pace could accelerate, benefiting the environment, if hydrogen was supplied not as a high-pressure gas but rather as an inexpensive liquid that was shipped and pumped using today’s vast liquid-fuel infrastructure. A study describing a single-atom catalyst that efficiently strips hydrogen from methanol, a multimillion-metric-ton commodity, nudges that car-fuel scenario a step closer to reality (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2019, DOI: 10.1021/jacs.9b09431). Ji Su and Gabor A. Somorjai of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, and coworkers have developed a procedure for using ascorbic acid and a platinum precursor to anchor isolated platinum atoms on a porous ceria support. The dispersion of the atoms, which maximizes the use of expensive metals, was confirmed via microscopy and spectroscopy; it shows that the atoms remain stable at elevated temperatures for more than 120 hours. In addition, the single-atom catalyst works effectively with a variety of alcohols, the team reports. And compared with 2.5 nm and 7 nm platinum nanoparticle catalysts, the new ­catalyst is 40 and 800 times as active, respectively.


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