Solar cells are popping up on rooftops everywhere these days and are a model for clean, renewable energy. Did you ever look at those solar panels and wonder how we can get electricity produced by solar cells when the sun is not shining? It is a great question because solar panels do not produce electricity when it is dark outside. One strategy to overcome this challenge is to store the energy produced by solar cells during the day in the form of a fuel that can be used at a later time. In this science project, you will explore a cutting-edge method for storing renewable energy by breaking up water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen and oxygen are fuels that can be burned in devices such as fuel cells to produce clean electricity when it is dark!
Main Objective: Examine water's usefulness as a renewable energy source by observing how efficient a cobalt-based catalyst can be at helping to form molecular oxygen.
The future of energy supply depends on innovative breakthroughs regarding the design of cheap, sustainable and efficient systems for the conversion and storage of renewable energy sources. The production of hydrogen through water splitting seems a promising and appealing solution. We found that a robust nanoparticulate electrocatalytic material, H2–CoCat, can be electrochemically prepared from cobalt salts in a phosphate buffer. This material consists of metallic cobalt coated with a cobalt-oxo/hydroxo-phosphate layer in contact with the electrolyte and mediates H2 evolution from neutral aqueous buffer at modest overpotentials. Remarkably, it can be converted on anodic equilibration into the previously described amorphous cobalt oxide film (O2–CoCat or CoPi) catalysing O2 evolution. The switch between the two catalytic forms is fully reversible and corresponds to a local interconversion between two morphologies and compositions at the surface of the electrode. After deposition, the noble-metal-free coating thus functions as a robust, bifunctional and switchable catalyst.
The cobalt-based catalyst reacts with water so molecular oxygen can be formed. This in turn provides sustainable energy. The cycle is repeated.