The imminent threat of global warming and climate change brought by carbon dioxide associated with the extensive use of fossil fuels has turned academic and industrial attention towards hydrogen, known as a clean fuel and could function as an excellent alternative to traditional fossil fuels. Water electrolysis is one of the most important non-polluting methods to obtain hydrogen from water. The water electrolysis technology is based on the generation of hydrogen at cathode and oxygen at the anode by passing an electric current through water. One of the biggest problems in the electrocatalytic water splitting process is the sluggish kinetics frequently observed for the oxygen evolution reaction (OER) on the anode. However, a researchers' team at the University of Oulu (UniOulu) in collaboration with the Umea University, Abo Akademi, and University of Danang, developed a novel robust and efficient catalyst nanomaterial for electrochemical water splitting, which is easy to apply and feasible to produce in large quantities at low cost.

Electrochemical water splitting to produce hydrogen and oxygen is one of the key processes for future green energy concepts. When the electrochemical cell is powered by electricity obtained e.g. by solar cells or other renewables, a very powerful tool is obtained in order to convert the green energy to chemicals with high energy content, i.e. to fuels such as hydrogen in the present case. 

Currently, for electrochemical water splitting expensive platinum electrodes and its alloys are used. Exploring novel and affordable conductive materials having a large specific surface area and high catalytic activity is a major research effort of the scientific community. The composite structure of carbon foam/nanotube collector and cobalt oxide nanoparticle catalyst demonstrated by the collaborating teams have all the features that render them to be a promising competitive choice of electrode materials.

Krisztian Kordas, a collaborator at the Microelectronics Research Unit at the University of Oulu, explained that since the carbon-based porous support may host practically any type of other more advanced catalytic nanoparticles, the structure may be considered as a versatile platform for electrocatalytic converters and sensors in the future.

In addition, this novel study received funding from the Bio4Energy programme, the Kempe and the Knut & Alice Wallenberg foundations, the Academy of Finland and from the University of Danang.