In a groundbreaking development, a team of researchers led by Professor Han Gi Chae and Professor Jong-Beom Baek at UNIST has developed a new technology to address the limitations of current catalyst electrodes. This advancement, reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, enables the production of green hydrogen on a large scale at a relatively low cost. By collaborating with Professor Kafer T. Tavuz at KAUST, the team has created carbon fabric electrocatalysts embedded with highly functional catalysts using a conventional carbon fiber/fabric manufacturing process.

Unlike traditional powder-type catalysts that are prone to detachment, this innovative design allows for stable operation across large areas by utilizing a carbon fiber catalyst. This carbon fiber-based electrode boasts a lifespan 100 times longer than conventional electrodes, while maintaining optimal performance through the use of ruthenium instead of the more expensive platinum, thus reducing manufacturing costs significantly. The integration of ruthenium into the polymer precursor fiber during the manufacturing process enhances catalyst stability, resulting in a low overvoltage of 11.9 mV at a current density of 10 mA cm−2 during the hydrogen generation process.

The newly developed carbon fiber electrode with a functional catalyst attached operates at a significant cost advantage compared to traditional electrodes reliant on expensive platinum-based catalysts. By incorporating ruthenium into the polymer precursor fiber at an early stage, the team has created ruthenium surface–embedded fabric electrocatalysts (Ru–SFECs) with exceptional stability and efficiency. The exceptional mechanical and electrical properties of carbon fibers showcased in this research highlight their potential as a versatile material for future electrochemical reactions.

Professor Chae emphasizes that this study lays a foundation for developing stable, binder-free, and flexible electrocatalytic electrodes, with potential applications in various catalytic reactions involving different metals. Future research should focus on enhancing mechanical durability, electrical conductivity, and cost-effectiveness. This innovative approach not only offers energy-efficient manufacturing processes but also reduces waste production, as validated through the commercial manufacturing process used in the carbon fiber industry. The continuous production of catalyst-supported carbon fibers on a semi-pilot line achieved in this study represents a technological maturity suitable for real-world implementation.

The flexible fiber form factor of this study paves the way for immediate applications in electrochemical, thermochemical, or photocatalytic processes. The meticulous control of catalyst metal separation and microcarbon structure by the researchers ensures maximum stability and activity for the continuous production of catalyst fibers for direct industrial applications. This breakthrough in electrochemical electrodes marks a significant step towards a more sustainable and cost-effective approach to hydrogen production, with far-reaching implications for future research and technology development.


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