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Hydrogen Production Advancements with Nickel Based Electrolysis



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Moving Forward with Electrolysis For Hydrogen Production

Hydrogen is considered a serious candidate for replacing fossil fuels. This is true in transportation, thanks to fuel cells, and in industrial processes where hydrogen's high combustion temperature can replace coal & natural gas when electrification is not an option.

An issue is that hydrogen is not often found in easily accessible natural deposits like natural gas. Instead, it needs to be artificially generated, with electrolysis being the most commonly used method.

Electrolysis is the breaking down of water into hydrogen and oxygen. Among the issues with the way electrolysis is currently done are low efficiency (wasting energy) and high costs, mostly due to expensive catalysts like platinum.

A research team from Korea might have found a way to both boost efficiency and replace the expensive catalysts with much more affordable and abundant nickel.

Nickel Nanoarrays Boosting Hydrogen Production

The researchers of Professor Jong Kyu Kim’s team at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at POSTECH (Pohang University, Korea) have been looking to solve a major issue with hydrogen electrolysis.


The issue is that when produced, the hydrogen stays “glued” to the catalyst, blocking it from reaching more water and continuing to work. This decreases efficiency, increasing the energy needed and ultimately requiring more expensive catalysts than needed.

Instead, Prof. Jong Kyu Kim and his team have created finely crafted, not fully vertically aligned nanorod protrusions of nickel. The nanostructure and tilted angle of the nickel rods display what is called “super-aerophobicity”, causing the hydrogen bubbles to detach more easily.

This, in turn, frees up the space for water to reach the catalyst and more efficient electrolysis.


This can dramatically boost the efficiency of the process, with a remarkable 55x improvement in hydrogen production efficiency compared to an equivalent amount of nickel in a traditional thin film structure.

Expanding Beyond Nickel Catalysts

The technology used nanorods of nickel but does not have to be limited to this metal. In fact, this metal of oblique nanorods reducing hydrogen adhesion can theoretically be used with any other catalyst. So, what does it mean for hydrogen prospects?

Better Electrolysis

Currently, most hydrogen produced in the world is made from natural gas. This is economically more profitable but defeats the purpose of producing hydrogen to reduce carbon emissions.

To get truly carbon-neutral hydrogen, producing it from electricity generated from renewables is the way go, usually called “green hydrogen”.

Any method that can reduce the overall cost of the green hydrogen supply chain is one step closer to making it a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

This could be true for “classical” high-efficiency, high-cost platinum catalysts, maybe in combination with the nickel rods.

It could also be possible to see it applied to other recently discovered cost-effective electrolysis catalysts, like ruthenium, silicon, and tungsten (RuSiW) that we covered in our article “Green Hydrogen Set to Replace Grey as New Electrocatalysts Make Production Cost-Effective”.

Better Hydrogen Supply Chain

Electrolysis is also just one of the steps that can be improved to make hydrogen a keystone of our energy systems.

For example, better fuel cells could make hydrogen vehicles strong competitors to EVs, something we discussed in our article “Are Battery Cells Just Precursor to Hydrogen Fuel Cells? The Real Next-Gen of EVs?”.

And more efficient large-scale storage solutions can make hydrogen a lot easier to handle and distribute, something we discussed in our article “Hydrogen Just Became More Attractive as an Energy Source Through Containment Breakthrough”.

Potential Other Applications

The use of inclined nanorods for creating super-aerophobicity could have applications beyond hydrogen.

The first effect is that with cheap and efficient hydrogen production comes equally efficient ammonia production. Ammonia has a few significant advantages over hydrogen for applications like fuel for shipping, something we discussed in “Decarbonizing Global Shipping Lanes through Green Ammonia”.

Professor Jong Kyu Kim also mentioned that nanorods technology could benefit other chemical processes involving gas.

“By enhancing the efficiency of the water electrolysis process for green hydrogen production, we are advancing towards a hydrogen economy and a carbon-neutral society.

This breakthrough benefits water electrolysis and holds promise for various other renewable energy applications where surface reactions play a crucial role, such as carbon dioxide reduction and light energy conversion systems.”

So this innovation could go beyond hydrogen, and could have a serious impact on carbon capture and artificial photosynthesis, an idea we started to explore in “Artificial Photosynthesis and Biodegradability: Combating Plastic Menace with Sustainability in Mind”.

Hydrogen Solutions Companies

1. Aker Horizons ASA

The discovery on how to use nickel nanorods is just the latest in a series of innovations boosting the prospects of hydrogen as an alternative fuel and energy storage solutions. So it might pay off to have a diversified exposure to all the stages of the hydrogen supply chain.

Aker Horizons is a subsidiary of the Aker group, which is centered around green energy. The Aker group is an important Norwegian conglomerate focusing on renewables and marine/offshore businesses. Aker Horizon is the holding company for several subsidiaries, including carbon capture, green hydrogen, and renewable energies.

Source: Aker

The company is notably very active in hydrogen and green ammonia generation, with a goal to decarbonize Arctic shipping, especially in Norway.

Aker Horizons can handle the entire vertical integration of green hydrogen & ammonia, from offshore windmills to hydrogen generation to green ammonia production.

It is also working on projects like waste-to-energy in France, a biomass plant in Germany, and carbon capture in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia and UAE).

This makes it a good stock for investors looking for exposure to the green energy sector at large, with a strong positioning on green ammonia & shipping, but also other green energies, and some geographical diversification.

2.  Ballard Power Systems Inc.

finviz dynamic chart for  BLPD

We are not sure yet what will be the main market for hydrogen. It might be power generation and car fuel, but it might also stay confined to more heavy duty tasks that are harder to electrify.

Ballard is a fuel cell manufacturer, and a pioneer of the technology with its first fuel cell bus in 1993.

The company is focused on heavy-duty markets: buses, trucks, trains/trams, ships, mining/construction, and power. While buses have been the core of the business, the company expects that by 2025 trucks will be a major business segment. It also expects Europe to stay its main market (50-60%), followed by North America (25%).

Trucking fuel cells are expected to keep growing and represent a $7.5B market in 2030 (from a $195B TAM), almost as large as all the other hydrogen/fuel cell applications combined.

This growth could accelerate if hydrogen production prices decline thanks to new technologies like improved and cheaper electrolysis.

Source: Ballard

Because of the higher power required and the need for quick charging, heavy-duty vehicles have been a good market for hydrogen and fuel cells over lighter vehicles like cars. It also reduces the need for catenary wire for rail and trolley buses.

Source: Ballard

The company is not a stranger to ammonia either, with for example a recent contract with Amogy to provide it with fuel cells for its “ammonia-to-power platform which relies on unique ammonia cracking technology”.

While EVs have a reasonable chance to take over the car markets quickly, heavier vehicles are harder to decarbonize.

With its established leadership in the sector, Ballard would be a prime beneficiary of a policy push toward a hydrogen economy, as well as quickly declining hydrogen production cost from nickel-based electrolysis.

Jonathan is a former biochemist researcher who worked in genetic analysis and clinical trials. He is now a stock analyst and finance writer with a focus on innovation, market cycles and geopolitics in his publication 'The Eurasian Century".