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Electrolysis of Water

Discusses how water can be turned into hydrogen and oxygen gas using an electrical current.

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Credit: US Department of Energy
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:High-temperature_electrolysis.png
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

You may have heard that you can isolate hydrogen and oxygen via the electrolysis of water. However, traditionally that process requires expensive metals or hazardous solutions. A recent discovery allows hydrogen to be harvested from water in a much more user-friendly way.

News You Can Use

  • Many modern sources of energy are polluting and non-renewable; however, it is believed that using hydrogen gas (H2) and oxygen gas (O2) to store energy could lead to a more sustainable system. The energy can be stored in these gaseous molecules by electrolyzing water and the hope is that it can be done using a clean source of energy capture, such as photovoltaics (PV) also known as solar cells.
  • Credit: Mark Guim
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mackarus/2851262330/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Photovoltaic cells can be used to recharge mobile devices such as mobile phones and laptops [Figure2]

  • Photovoltaics are indeed clean sources of energy capture; however, sometimes the efficiency of the solar cells is low (15 to 40%) and any method that increases the efficiency of water electrolysis using electricity from solar cells would benefit the overall process. Thus, many researchers are looking for novel ways to facilitate the electrolysis of water.

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With the links below, learn more about metal catalysts for water electrolysis. Then answer the following questions.

  1. What are the products of water electrolysis and does this reaction require energy input or produce energy output?
  2. Hydrogen gas (H2) and oxygen gas (O2) can be combined. What is the product of their combination and does it require energy input or produce energy output?
  3. What inexpensive metal appears to be promising for catalyzing the electrolysis of water? Why was this metal explored in the first place?
  4. Initially, a complicated molecule containing cobalt was made. However, it was discovered that the complicated molecule was unnecessary as a water-electrolysis catalyst. Does that mean the initial experiments were a failure? Justify your answer.

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: US Department of Energy; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:High-temperature_electrolysis.png; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Mark Guim; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mackarus/2851262330/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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