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Chemists at Ruhr-Universität Bochum have developed a new method to tightly fix catalyst powders on electrode surfaces; this could lead to hydrogen production by water electrolysis.

Suitable catalyst binders exist for electrodes employed in acidic media. Such binders are often deployed in alkaline environments because of the lack of suitable alternatives.

However, a major drawback of using these binder materials in alkaline electrolytes is that they are intrinsically unstable and electrically insulating, thus essentially impeding the application of many highly active and potentially industrially interesting powder catalysts.

The team from Bochum proposes a new method for tight powder catalyst fixation on metal surfaces. They utilized a specific organic polymer, namely polybenzoxazine, which transforms to carbon at temperatures around 500 degree Celsius.

The polymer was applied together with the powder catalyst on the surface of a nickel electrode and subsequently heated at high temperatures. Upon thermal treatment, the polymer transformed into a carbon matrix embedding the powder catalyst particles.

The distinctiveness was the choice of the used polymer. Polybenzoxazines are highly thermal stable and exhibit near-zero shrinkage at higher temperatures. In the absence of oxygen, they carbonize giving high residual char.

“We expect that the presented method might also be applicable at an industrial scale, although this is yet to be validated. However, the necessary procedures are already well established,“ says professor Wolfgang Schuhmann.

In principle, it is the same technique as painting the door of a car: “A mixture of catalyst and polymer could be sprayed on an electrode surface, which is then transferred into an oven,“ illustrates Schuhmann. 

Image credits and content: Kramer/Ruhr-Universität Bochum

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