One of the chosen projects, led by Dr Jan Van Herle, aims to test non-noble metals as catalysts and develop a new concept for the electrolysis of water from anionic polymer membranes. This represents a cheaper alternative to the established technology which uses polymer proton exchange membranes requiring noble metal catalysts.
The aim of this project is to provide a new pathway for when major industries start to show interest and invest in this new high-potential technology as it is an entirely clean and uses non-noble metals for the catalyst.
Electrolysis is a process that uses electricity to separate water into its two basic elements, oxygen (O2) and hydrogen (H2), using two electrodes (an anode and a cathode) and a separation membrane, here made of a plastic material (polymer).
The electric energy stored in the form of chemical energy (H2) can then be used at a later time in the mobility, the chemical industry or cogeneration. Electrolysis can take place in an acidic (proton) or alkaline (anion) medium; the second of these has the advantage of being able to use less expensive materials (Ni, Fe instead of noble metal catalysts such as Pt, Ir).
The project is a collaboration bringing together two EPFL laboratories, that of Prof. Xile Hu and Dr. Van Herle, one HES-SO laboratory the Research Institute of Systems Engineering, led by Prof. Christoph Ellert, and one laboratory of the University of Agder in Norway, led by Prof. Hugh Middleton. This adds up to funding of more than 1 million from institutional and industrial partners.
What is a systemic demonstrator?
The systemic demonstrator is intended to make the Canton of Valais the preferred test area in Switzerland and Europe in terms of energy. Unlike the neighborhood demonstrator, the systemic demonstrator aims to provide an experimentation platform at the canton level. It therefore implies greater openness to Valais issues and solutions in the field of energy and requires a “bottom-up” approach.