Laser structuring to help increase efficiency of hydrogen production

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Femtosecond laser structuring is being used to functionalise different materials for electrocatalysts like nickel foams and support plates. (Image: Fraunhofer HHI)

A new research project is aiming to increase the efficiency of conventional water electrolysis to over 75 per cent with the help of laser structuring.

Water electrolysis – splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using an electric current – is the most commonly used process for the production of green hydrogen. The process is very energy-intensive, however, meaning that hydrogen-powered technology will only ever be environmentally friendly if water electrolysis can be optimised.

The ‘InnoEly’ (Water Electrolysis Innovation Laboratory) project, running until April 2024, aims to do just this while also reducing the cost of electrolysis, allowing hydrogen to become a widely usable energy carrier of the future.

The project has received initial funding of €1.2 million from the Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Culture, with its partners including: The Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute (HHI), Leibniz University Hannover, TU Braunschweig, TU Clausthal, the University of Oldenburg, DLR Institute for Networked Energy Systems and the Institute for Solar Energy Research in Hameln ISFH. 

Together the partners are developing a novel catalyst unit, with the goal of increasing the efficiency of conventional water electrolysis processes to over 75 per cent. In addition, they will be creating a toolbox of modeling and characterisation components that can be employed for all three relevant water electrolysis technologies: alkaline electrolysis (AEL), acidic proton exchange membrane electrolysis (PEMEL), and high temperature electrolysis (HTEL).

For AEL, the Fraunhofer HHI researchers are working on electrodes already used in electrolysis, as well as new electrode components developed by the project partners. Using a femtosecond laser structuring process, they are functionalising different materials for electrocatalysts, such as nickel foams and support plates. The structuring optimises the effect of the electrodes. With this, the so-called overvoltage – the amount of energy loss – can be reduced by up to 20 per cent. This enables the amount of hydrogen obtained with minimal optimisation of the existing system to be increased. In a second step, the electrode components produced in this process are characterised. The obtained measurement data serves as a case study for testing and validating the modeling tool.

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