MIT Energy Initiative

Better catalysts for energy storage devices

Providing a new understanding of why certain catalysts are so effective at encouraging the release of oxygen from water during electrolysis—a key process in many energy storage devices

Credit: Courtesy of the researchers

We’ve shown that evolving oxygen from the metal oxide increases catalytic activity… So to design particularly active catalysts, we should try to increase the covalency of the metal oxide so as to trigger activation of oxygen in the lattice and enable non-concerted proton-electron transfer.
Livia Giordano, MIT and Milano-Bicocca University

MIT and Leiden University researchers have now produced unambiguous experimental evidence that conventional theory doesn’t accurately describe how highly efficient metal-oxide catalysts help release oxygen gas from water during electrolysis—a critical process in many energy storage technologies. Using a special form of oxygen as a marker, they demonstrated that the oxygen gas comes not only from the water but also from the metal-oxide catalyst itself. In parallel theoretical studies, they showed that certain electronic properties of such highly efficient catalysts permit involvement of oxygen from the catalyst. The team is now working to define the sequence of chemical reactions that leads to oxygen release on these special catalysts. Already, their findings provide new guidance in the ongoing search for low-cost, effective materials and designs for these important catalysts.

Research Team