Scientists at Rice University and the University of Houston have developed a catalyst that can simplify the splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen to produce clean energy. The electrolytic film is a three-layer structure of nickel, graphene and a compound of iron, manganese and phosphorus. The foamy nickel gives the film a large surface, the conductive graphene protects the nickel from degrading and the metal phosphide carries out the reaction.
The film was developed to overcome barriers that usually make a catalyst good for producing either oxygen or hydrogen, but not both simultaneously - as is often the case with regular metals. The team explained that normally, a hydrogen evolution reaction is done in acid and an oxygen evolution reaction is done in base. This work produced one material that is stable whether it's in an acidic or basic solution. In addition, the team used rather common materials in lieu of the usually-required platinum and other costly materials.