Single-atom catalyst for hydrogen generation

December 7th, 2021

R&D Focus Areas:
Electrolysis; Advanced manufacturing; Energy systems integration

Lead Organisation:

Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)


Start date:
January 2019

Completion date:
January 2022

Key contacts:
Dr Zhaojun Han –

Chinese Academy of Sciences-CSIRO Collaborative Research Fund

Project total cost:

Project summary description:
Hydrogen as the ultimate clean energy source has attracted significant research interest in recent years. Water splitting is a key technology to utilize electricity for producing hydrogen. However, one big challenge in water splitting is that noble metals, such as platinum (Pt), are often needed as the catalyst. The high cost and scarcity of noble metals have so far limited the applicability and scalability of water splitting.

This project will explore a new concept of using single-atom catalysis with vertical graphene as a low-cost alternative to noble metal catalysts. Single-atom catalysis offers advantages such as high catalytic activity, stability, selectivity and 100% atom utilization. However, it remains elusive to find a support material to provide stable and enhanced catalytic performance. Vertical graphene, where graphene layers aligned vertically to the surface, is highly attractive for supporting single-atom catalysis since: i) the large surface area and open channels can ensure easy accessibility for catalysts; ii) the high electrical conductivity can boost the electron transport between electrode and catalyst; and iii) the superhydrophobicity can help remove the bubbles and reduce the dead area. As a results, the efficiency of water splitting can be greatly improved.

The project has drawn upon complementary skills from both CAS and CSIRO:

  • CAS has developed a series of efficient catalysts, including single-atom catalyst, using novel thermal and chemical methods. The single-atom catalyst can easily be loaded on carbon materials and make full use of metal atoms. Over 10 papers have been published in the last 3 years in the field of water splitting.
  • CSIRO has developed a unique plasma-based method to synthesize vertical graphene. The method displays many competitive advantages, including single-step short processing, catalyst-free, heating-free and good structural control. Over 20 papers have been published in the last 5 years, demonstrating the applicability and versatility of vertical graphene in the field of energy storage and conversion.

The project focusses on the following deliverables:

  • Fabrication of single-atom catalyst on vertical graphene: a variety of non-precious transition metals such as Fe, Co, Ni, Mn will be carefully anchored on vertical graphene and the support-catalyst interactions will be tuned to stabilize the single-atom catalyst.
  • Catalytic performance evaluation of water splitting: this will measure the catalytic activity, overpotential, and stability of developed catalyst on hydrogen production and benchmark against the current noble metal catalysts.
  • Optimisation and scalability of catalyst production: this will further reduce the cost and make the single-atom catalyst more competitive for practical applications.

Related publications and key links:

  1. Yufei Zhao, Wen‐Jie Jiang, Jinqiang Zhang, Emma C Lovell, Rose Amal, Zhaojun Han, Xunyu Lu, Anchoring Sites Engineering in SingleAtom Catalysts for Highly Efficient Electrochemical Energy Conversion Reactions. Mater., 33, 2102801, 2021.
  2. Constantine Tsounis, Xunyu Lu, Nicholas M Bedford, Bijil Subhash, Lars Thomsen, Qingran Zhang, Zhipeng Ma, Kostya Ostrikov, Avi Bendavid, Jason A Scott, Rose Amal, Zhaojun Han, Valence Alignment of Mixed Ni-Fe Hydroxide Electrocatalysts through Preferential Templating on Graphene Edges for Enhanced Oxygen Evolution. ACS Nano, 14, 11327, 2020.

Higher degree studies supported:
Two PhD students from the School of Chemical Engineering, University of New South Wales, are fully or partially supported by this project.


Updated: June 2022