Harnessing Light and Electricity: The Future of Green Hydrogen Production

Figure 1:  Hydrogen production techniques based on renewable energy sources.


Hydrogen is a clean, renewable energy carrier and a promising alternative to fossil fuels. However, current hydrogen production methods, which rely heavily on fossil fuels, emit significant amounts of CO2. To mitigate environmental impacts, sustainable hydrogen production methods such as water splitting, using either light or electricity, are essential.

Photocatalytic Hydrogen Production

Photocatalytic hydrogen production harnesses light energy to drive chemical reactions that split water into hydrogen and oxygen. This process involves light absorption, charge separation, and redox reactions on the surface of the catalyst.

Key Photocatalyst Systems

Titania (TiO2)-Based Photocatalysts

Titania-based photocatalysts are widely used due to their stability and cost-effectiveness. However, they are primarily activated by UV light, which makes up only a small fraction of the solar spectrum. To enhance their efficiency, methods such as metal and non-metal doping, and creating heterojunctions with other semiconductors, have been developed.

Graphitic Carbon Nitride (g-C3N4)

Graphitic carbon nitride is a narrow band gap semiconductor responsive to visible light. While it shows potential for photocatalytic hydrogen production, its low surface area and high recombination rates limit its activity. Enhancements like doping, copolymerization, and exfoliation techniques have been developed to improve its performance.

Metal Chalcogenides and Perovskites

Apart from TiO2 and g-C3N4, various metal chalcogenides, metal chalcogenide-based heterostructures, and perovskites have been studied for their photocatalytic hydrogen evolution activity. These materials are promising due to their adjustable band gaps and good catalytic properties.

Electrocatalytic Hydrogen Production

Electrocatalytic hydrogen production involves the Hydrogen Evolution Reaction (HER) at the cathode and the Oxygen Evolution Reaction (OER) at the anode. Efficient catalysts are required to lower overpotentials and increase reaction rates.

Key Electrocatalyst Systems

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Depolymerization and Recycling

Noble Metal-Based Catalysts

Platinum (Pt) is the most efficient catalyst for HER due to its ideal hydrogen binding energy, but its high cost and low abundance limit its industrial application. Solutions include supported Pt nanostructures, single-atom catalysts, and alloy catalysts to reduce platinum usage while maintaining high activity.

Ruthenium (Ru) offers similar properties to platinum but at a lower cost. Various Ru-based alloys and supported structures have been developed to enhance its catalytic activity.

Iridium (Ir) and Palladium (Pd) also show good electrocatalytic activity. Iridium works well in both acidic and alkaline media, while palladium’s activity is influenced by its morphology and support structures.

Non-Noble Metal-Based Catalysts

Transition metal chalcogenides, such as molybdenum sulfide (MoS2), have gained attention for their electrocatalytic activity. Theoretical and experimental studies confirm MoS2’s potential for HER. Strategies to enhance MoS2’s activity include reducing its size, introducing defects, doping with metals and nonmetals, and forming heterostructures with conductive materials.

Tungsten-based chalcogenides, such as WS2 and WSe2, are also promising due to their structure and properties. Doping and creating metallic phases further improve their catalytic activity.

Other transition metal chalcogenides, including iron, nickel, and cobalt sulfides and selenides, have been studied for their electrocatalytic activity. Techniques like doping and forming binary or ternary compounds enhance their performance.

Transition metal phosphides and carbides, such as nickel phosphides (Ni2P) and molybdenum carbide (Mo2C), are also effective for hydrogen generation. These materials are inspired by natural enzymes and offer good catalytic properties. Enhancements include metal doping, creating nanostructures, and forming hybrids with other materials.

Metal borides and nitrides have also shown potential for hydrogen generation, often in combination with carbon-based materials for improved performance.

Challenges and Future Perspectives

Despite advancements in photocatalytic and electrocatalytic systems, challenges remain. Many catalysts have low hydrogen generation efficiency and stability. Further research is needed to prevent recombination of charge carriers and to develop catalysts that are responsive to visible light.

Cost and practicality are significant concerns. Developing low-cost, pollution-free sacrificial agents and designing efficient photoreactors are crucial for industrial application. Understanding structure-activity relationships and improving photoredox mechanisms are essential for advancing this field.


Hydrogen production via water splitting is a promising and sustainable method. Advances in photocatalytic and electrocatalytic systems, particularly using earth-abundant materials and innovative nanostructures, show potential. Overcoming challenges in efficiency, stability, and cost will be key to making hydrogen a viable alternative energy source.