The problem with hydrogen fuel cells has been the cost of the platinum required as a catalyst. Now, scientists at the University of Cambridge have found that cobalt can function as an efficient catalyst at room temperature in pH neutral water surrounded by oxygen. Cobalt is relatively abundant and, therefore, inexpensive.

Lead author of the research, Dr Erwin Reisner, said that “Our research has shown that inexpensive materials such as cobalt are suitable to fulfil this challenging requirement. Of course, many hurdles such as the rather poor stability of the catalyst remain to be addressed, but our finding provides a first step to produce ‘green hydrogen’ under relevant conditions.”

The researchers are now working on developing a solar-powered water splitting device that would yield just hydrogen and oxygen.