Zapping hydrogen out of water through a process called electrolysis is the cleanest way, but the catalysts required are rare-Earth metals like platinum. Researchers at Washington State University have now developed a quick and inexpensive alternative, making a "nanofoam" catalyst out of nickel and iron that they say performed better than usual.
Water electrolysis hasn't quite made it to industrial scale yet, mostly due to the costs of those catalysts and the high energy input required to trigger the reaction. Improving these areas is a key area of research, with scientists tackling the problem by using catalysts such as inexpensive molybdenum sulfide, and hybrid solid-state electrolyzers.
The WSU researchers used nickel and iron, two cheap and abundant metals, as a catalyst. From those they created a nanofoam, a material that resembles a sponge on the atomic level. With a large amount of surface area making contact with the water, the nanofoam is able to efficiently trigger the reaction, and the team found that the material worked better and required less energy than the more expensive catalysts, losing very little activity over a 12-hour stability test.