New firm wants to produce cheap hydrogen with water splitting breakthrough

New firm wants to produce cheap hydrogen with water splitting breakthrough

A new start-up with roots in the University of Kansas School of Engineering and Centre for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis has received new capital that will accelerate its mission to produce cheap hydrogen.

Avium LLC, headquartered at KU’s Bioscience and Technology Business Centre, will leverage a two-year, $750,000, Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation to advance its technology that aims to broaden the popularity of hydrogen.

In order to develop the cheap hydrogen, the company is developing a Dual Element Matrix (DEM) Water Electrolyser which generates hydrogen from water using electricity at a much lower materials cost.

Founded back in 2017 by a KU Doctoral Student in Chemical Engineering, Joe Barforoush, and his faculty mentor Kevin Leonard, Associate Professor of Chemical & Petroleum Engineering, Avium hopes to be a leading innovator in the hydrogen generation industry.

“What we want to do is develop an on-site hydrogen generator for fuelling stations for fuel-cell electric vehicles,” explains Leonard talking about the company’s goals.

“They can essentially just take water and electricity — which is already available there — and generate hydrogen on demand instead of having a truck in from a chemical plant.”

The new NSF Phase II SBIR grant will enable Avium to build a larger prototype of the DEM water electrolyser and perform field testing at a working hydrogen station.

“Traditionally, in order to split water into hydrogen and oxygen very expensive metals are required — things like platinum, which is very rare and very expensive,” Leonard continues.

“What we’ve been able to do is design a catalyst that works just as well as platinum but uses elements such as iron and nickel and cobalt, which are much more abundant elements. It’s a material advance that we’ve made and now we’re taking those materials and putting them into a new device.”

“We call it the “Dual Element Matrix” because it’s a material with a matrix composition. Iron isn’t as good as platinum, nor is nickel as good as platinum, but if you mix them together in the right proportions, in the right way, they have a synergistic effect on each other. The two metals acting together gives you this improved performance.”.

The work to develop the new electrolyser will take place at the BTBC in KU’s west district, steps from the Leonard Lab in the School of Engineering and the Centre for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis.


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