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Gold nanoclusters may play important role in hydrogen production

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A breakthrough in hydrogen production could be on the horizon thanks to the discovery of the potential of atomically precise gold nanoclusters. Traditional water splitting processes for hydrogen production require a reaction called the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER). However, the nanocatalysts used in this process lack uniformity in size, structure, composition, and chemical coordination. This poses challenges for efficiency and a comprehensive understanding of the reaction mechanism. Atomically precise gold nanoclusters offer a promising solution.

According to co-author Zhenghua Tang, creating a model catalyst with uniform size, precise geometric configuration, and a well-defined local chemical environment is extremely challenging. Gold nanoclusters, however, have demonstrated exceptional catalytic properties in various organic and electrocatalytic reactions. They have the potential to address the existing issues and establish an unambiguous structure-performance relationship.

Gold nanoclusters may play important role in hydrogen production
Graph from Polyoxometalates (2023). DOI: 10.26599/POM.2023.9140031

What makes gold nanoclusters an ideal catalyst for the HER is their precise nanostructure. Unlike other nanocatalysts, gold nanoclusters have uniform size, composition, morphology, and chemical environment. This enables the identification of active sites for catalysis. Gold nanoclusters also exhibit rich chemical reactivities that allow for metal core tailoring and surface ligand engineering. Metal core tailoring involves incorporating another metal into the gold nanocluster, creating a gold-alloy cluster. This introduces novel catalytic capabilities while reducing costs. Surface ligand engineering, on the other hand, fine-tunes the surface chemical environment to expose more active sites or modify the nanocluster’s structure.

Additional advantages of gold nanoclusters include their ultrasmall size, which aligns with the principle of β€œsmall is precious” in the catalysis field, the ability to manipulate their morphology, and their robust stability, preserving intact structure in various reactions under mild conditions.

Despite these advantages, challenges remain in utilizing gold nanoclusters for HER catalysis. These include the amount of gold required for scalability, performance in harsh conditions, and accurate theoretical modeling.

Looking ahead, researchers are exploring further advancements in nanocatalyst research. This includes testing the applicability of gold cluster-based composites in other reactions combined with the HER process and improving the electrical conductivity of cluster-based composite catalysts.

β€œWith the rapid development of synthetic techniques and catalysis science, we anticipate increased efforts to use atomically precise metal nanoclusters as model catalysts for various electrocatalytic reactions and beyond,” added Tang.

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