Hydrogen at scale via water electrolysis has always been an energy cost and is a potentially cost-effective, where carbon-neutral means hydrogen gas production. The development of low-cost and reliable catalysts for the oxygen evolution reaction (OER) and the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) is a key component in achieving the widespread adoption of this technology. The introduction of anionic exchange polymer membranes has enabled the use of metal catalysts in these electrochemical reactors that would otherwise corrode in reactors that use traditional proton exchange membranes. Among these metals, nickel has shown high activity towards HER. 
However, there are two main drawbacks of using nickel as an HER catalyst 
- It easily oxidizes to the electrochemically inactive nickel oxide
- Prolonged use of nickel results in the inactivation of the catalyst through the build-up hydrides which poisons the catalyst
Technology Overview
For this invention, the process involves the use of a corrosive reducing agent such as sodium borohydride. Here, a functionalized nickel catalyst is prepared by forming a complex comprised of the nickel ion and the chelating agent cupferron in the presence of the carbon support. The catalyst is prepared by adding enough nickel salt to a slurry of the carbon support to create a mixture that is 40% wt nickel. A solution of cupferron (2:1 molar ratio with respect to nickel) is added dropwise to the nickel/carbon slurry and allowed to stir at room temperature for 3 days. The mixture is filtered, dried, and heat-treated at 700º C for three hours. During the heat treatment, these sequential processes occur: 
- The nickel ions are converted to nickel oxide
- The cupferron decomposes into a brittle polymer in which the nickel oxide particles are embedded
- Nickel oxide is reduced to nickel metal 
- The carbon backbone is graphitized by the nickel metal 
The resulting catalyst has nickel particles embedded in the carbon support that are covered by several layers of graphite. Electrochemical tests display an improved activity of this catalyst towards HER relative to traditionally prepared nickel on carbon catalysts and a performance that is sustained over a prolonged period of time. 
- Improved electrochemical performance
- Resists hydride poisoning allowing for prolonged use
- Resists oxidation 
- Hydrogen production via water electrolysis
- Electrochemical hydrogen separation 
- License
- Research collaboration
- Partnering
Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
Mark Saulich
Associate Director of Commercialization
Northeastern University
Sanjeev Mukerjee
Robert Allen
Huong Doan
Ian Kendrick
Energy Technology