The manganese-based mineral birnessite has been reported to have great potential as a catalyst to assist the generation of hydrogen by splitting of water. This development could greatly facilitate the use of hydrogen fuel cells, though other obstacles remain.
“The hardest part about turning water into fuel is splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, but the team at Monash seems to have uncovered the process, developing a water-splitting cell based on a manganese-based catalyst,” Professor Spiccia said.
“Birnessite, it turns out, is what does the work. Like other elements in the middle of the Periodic Table, manganese can exist in a number of what chemists call oxidation states. These correspond to the number of oxygen atoms with which a metal atom could be combined,” Professor Spiccia said.
“When an electrical voltage is applied to the cell, it splits water into hydrogen and oxygen and when the researchers carefully examined the catalyst as it was working, using advanced spectroscopic methods they found that it had decomposed into a much simpler material called birnessite, well-known to geologists as a black stain on many rocks.”