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Electrolysis

Amy Jewel, Rob Larkin and Todd Haurin


Water will be the coal of the future.

-Jules Verne, 1874
The process

of hair
removal
Is NOT our topic today!
What is electrolysis?
Definition of Electrolysis:
A chemical process in which bonded `
elements and compounds are dissociated
by the passage of an electric current.
The electrolysis of water:
2H2O + energy = 2H2 + 2O2
A Basic Electrolyzer
Two electrodes:
Cathode (negatively charged)
Anode (positively charged)

An Electrolyte

External circuit

Diaphragm


Polymer Electrolyte Membrane
(PEM) Electrolyzers:
1. Uses a solid plastic
material as an
electrolyte.

2. Water reacts at the
anode to form
oxygen, electrons,
and positively
charged hydrogen
ions (protons).
Polymer Electrolyte Membrane
(PEM) Electrolyzers:
3. The electrons
flow through an
external circuit to
the cathode.
4. The hydrogen
ions move across
the PEM to the
cathode, where
they combine
with the electrons
to form hydrogen
gas
Alkaline Electrolyzers
Similar to PEM electrolyzers, except that they use
an alkaline solution as an electrolyte.
Usually this solution is sodium hydroxide or
potassium hydroxide.
This type of
electrolyzer
has been in
use
commercially
for several
decades

Solid Oxide Electrolyzers
A solid ceramic material is used as the electrolyte.
At the cathode, water combines with electrons from the
external circuit to produce hydrogen gas and
negatively charged oxygen ions.
The oxygen ions move through the solid oxide
membrane and release electrons to the external circuit.
In order for this type of electolyzer to function properly,
the solid oxide membrane must be between 500 800
degrees Celsius, which is much higher than the
temperatures required by the other electrolyzers
Energy Balance and Efficiency
of Electrolysis
The electricity needed for hydrogen
production by electrolysis can currently be
generated by a variety of sources,
including:
fossil fuels
wind power
photovoltaic cells
hydropower

Necessary Water Inputs
For Electrolysis
Amount of water needed to meet average
US persons energy demand though
electrolysis: 3,000 liters of water per
year
Amount of water currently used by an
average US person for indoor residential
purposes: 138,770 liters a year
Electrolysis Efficiency
Basics
Although hydrogen is a promising
alternative fuel, hydrogen production by
electrolysis is not extremely efficient.
The primary energy inputs to be
considered are the energy requirements
for building and running an electrical
generating facility.
Energy Balance - Part I
An input of 1.4 billion kW per hour of
electricity is required to produce 1 billion
kW per hour of hydrogen by electrolysis.
Energy balance = (Useful Energy
Output)/(Energy Input)
= (1 kW/hr electricity)/(1.4 kW/hr
hydrogen energy)
= 0.71, or 71% efficiency for the initial
electrolysis process.
Energy Balance - Part II
The other main process to consider in
production of hydrogen gas is the necessary
cooling of hydrogen to about minus 253
degrees Celsius.
This process demands considerable energy,
resulting in a loss of approximately 30 percent
of the hydrogen energy.
As a result of each stage of the hydrogen
production process, the total production
efficiency is approximately 30 %.
High Temperature
Electrolysis
Process which could increase hydrogen
efficiency to the range of 45 to 50 %
The DOE is currently examining the use of high
temperature electrolysis powered by fossil fuel,
renewable, and even nuclear technologies.
High temperature electrolysis utilizes the solid
oxide electrolyzer described earlier.


High Temperature
Electrolysis
The efficiency increase is achieved
because high temperature electrolysis
utilizes a significant amount of heat, for
example from a nuclear reactor.
The added heat decreases the amount of
electricity required to separate the water
into hydrogen and oxygen.
Photoelectrolysis
Photoelectrolysis: Clean and renewable means of
deriving hydrogen Also known as Water Splitting
(2 processes):
1) Conversion of solar radiation to electricity in
photovoltaic cells
2) Electrolysis of water in a separate cell

Conversion efficiency = 3% - 32%
Photoelectrolysis
However, the 2 processes can be combined in
a single nanoscale process: Photon
absorption creates a local electron-hole pair
that electrochemically splits a neighboring
water molecule. In theory, rather than 2
sequential process, the combination can allow
for greater overall efficiency,
Photoelectrolysis
Challenges: Finding a robust
semiconductor to satisfy the competing
requirements of nature. Solar photons
are primarily visible light, a wavelength
that requires semiconductors that require
small bandgaps < 1.7 eV - for efficient
absorption.
Photoelectrolysis
Possible solution: Oxide
based conductors -
Titanium oxide
Advantage robust in
aqueous environments
but have
Disadvantage - wide
bandgaps ~ 3.0 eV

Photoelectrolysis
Dye-sensitized photocells:
accumulate energy from multiple low-energy
photons to inject higher-energy electrons into
the semiconductor a promising direction for
matching the solar spectrum.
Other Applications of
Electrolysis:
pH meters -






Other Applications of
Electrolysis:
Electroplating

Other Applications of
Electrolysis:
Anionic polymerization