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Up until now, electrodes made from the precious metal platinum or from platinum metals have been used to produce hydrogen from water by catalysis – an expensive procedure. Scientists at Griffith University in Queensland and Swinburne University of Technology have now developed a new catalyst made from the much cheaper materials iron and nickel. According to an article in the journal ‘Nature Communications’ , the catalyst is characterized by high energy efficiency and a high water-splitting speed. It also proves highly suitable for the production of oxygen.

As project leader Professor Chuan Zhao explains, the nickel-iron catalyst has a nanoscale interface where the two metals meet at the atomic level. This interface fundamentally changes the properties of the materials. As a result, nickel and iron, which in themselves are not well suited for hydrogen catalysis, can be as active as platinum.