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Optimizing Hydrogen Production towards Achieving Qatar’s Sustainable Environmental Goals

Qatar faces various environmental challenges, caused in part by a high carbon footprint due to its huge hydrocarbon energy production industry. Responding to this, the government has launched several initiatives to lower its carbon footprint and ensure sustainable development practices are promoted to help the country transition towards a sustainable and diversified economy.

One way these efforts can be accelerated is by diversifying Qatar’s energy production industry. The recent sharp decrease in cost for electric power production from solar energy presents great opportunities for the country to enhance its future energy mix and reduce carbon emissions. Yet, industry and transport will still require combustible fuels for many purposes. Considering this, hydrogen produced by water electrolysis using renewable electricity is a viable option.

Moreover, hydrogen is of central importance in key industrial processes and is widely used as feedstock in the production of various chemicals. In addition, its compelling properties as an energy carrier make it a promising candidate for future energy storage and transportation.

Qatar also has an edge when it comes to hydrogen production. Conventional water electrolyzers rely on purified freshwater supplemented with high concentrations of electrolyte compounds. However, many countries, including Qatar, have very limited freshwater resources and depend on seawater desalination for domestic and industrial water supply. Seawater is an abundant water source and natural electrolyte due to its high total dissolved solids. Therefore, if it can be used as the electrolyzer water source, it would provide a nearly unlimited source of both water and electrolyte for H2 production from water splitting.

However, seawater electrolysis faces some challenges including the production of undesired chlorine compounds, the sensitivity of the conventional electrolyzers’ membranes/cell dividers to seawater constituents, and precipitation of magnesium and calcium salts when operating under conventional alkaline conditions known to enhance the performance of electrolysis in commercial electrolyzers.

A team of researchers led by Prof. Ahmed Abdel-Wahab (Texas A&M University at Qatar), with the collaboration of Prof. Edward Sargent (University of Toronto), Prof. Daniel Esposito (Columbia University, and Drs. Joseph Powell, Martin Gomez-Osorio, and Dharmesh Kumar (Shell Global Solutions and Qatar Shell Research and Technology Centre), has been working on a joint research program towards addressing these challenges. This project titled, “Hydrogen Production from Seawater electrolysis using Highly Selective Earth-Abundant Catalysts and Membraneless Electrolyzer,” has been funded by Qatar National Research Fund under its National Priorities Research Program (NPRP10-1231-160069), with co-funding from Shell.

The project aims to develop:

1) Earth-abundant electrocatalysts that are efficient and stable in saline water,

2) Ultra-thin nanomembrane coatings for suppressing chlorine evolution reaction at the anode, and

3) A membraneless electrolyzer that is optimized for efficient and durable saline water electrolysis.

Results obtained during the first year of the project show promising outcomes that help address the existing challenges and improves the overall performance and stability of the hydrogen production process.

Moreover, this research has led to the publication of several peer-reviewed journal articles so far. This project is also training the future generation of researchers and scientists as several graduate and undergraduate students are involved in the project. The synergetic collaboration between academic institutions and Shell has been very productive, and it is a great example of a successful cross-border collaboration between academia and industry stakeholders towards technological advancements that contribute to the transition towards a sustainable, diversified economy.

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