There are great expectations associated with hydrogen produced by green electric power, and it is also a part of Finland’s energy and climate strategy. The Department of Chemistry of the University of Jyväskylä is involved in the hydrogen transition of Finland. The department’s research activities include, among other things, the investigation of new ways of hydrogen production. The department is also involved in providing the first and highly important study module on hydrogen economy.
Hydrogen produced from water by renewable energy can be called green hydrogen, which means that it does not cause any harmful carbon dioxide emissions that would speed up climate change. Green hydrogen also beats many other rivals since it is renewable and can be used as fuel in vehicles and as a chemical in industrial processes, such as making ammonia.
According to the national policy, Finland aims at carbon neutrality by the year 2035. To prevent CO2 emissions, the transition to a hydrogen economy is necessary, and it is also a goal of the European Union.
The term “hydrogen economy” refers to a vision of an energy infrastructure based on hydrogen as a carbon-free energy carrier. One of the greatest challenges in hydrogen economy is related to the generation of electric power, as the hydrogen production from water consumes a lot of energy. The power used must be renewable, and the only possible way to increase the supply of renewable energy is wind and solar power.
“We should have more wind farms and transmit the generated electric power to hydrogen production units, which in turn calls for new power lines. The transmission of hydrogen molecules through pipelines is not simple either,” says Professor Karoliina Honkala, who studies hydrogen catalyst chemistry at the JYU Department of Chemistry and is involved in the development of catalysts for the production of green hydrogen, among other things.
In Finland and Europe, it is not yet known exactly what the hydrogen economy will bring. Hydrogen is, however, a means to reduce harmful emissions and store energy. This is why we should prepare for the potential of the hydrogen economy and promote related research.
Hydrogen Research Forum Finland promotes hydrogen expertise – international competition among the technologies
Hydrogen Research Forum Finland (HRFF) was established in 2022. It is a network of Finnish universities and research institutes.
The forum aims at cooperation, promoting domestic hydrogen expertise, and advancing the hydrogen economy in the academic world. Professor Karoliina Honkala and Senior Lecturer Manu Lahtinen represent the University of Jyväskylä in HRFF.
“We can expect tough international competition between different technologies in the hydrogen economy,” says HRFF Coordinator Professor Timo Fabritius from University of Oulu, “and thousands of hydrogen projects are under preparation in Europe and elsewhere. Finland’s success in the international hydrogen competition calls for skilled professionals and the acceleration of research innovations.”
The forum is making its own proposal for a national action plan pertaining to the hydrogen economy.
“It takes into account the development of the necessary infrastructure, national and international cooperation as well as the impacts of the hydrogen transition on society at large,” Fabritius continues.
HRFF has also listed measures to support the drafting of the next government programme. Finland has excellent prerequisites to succeed in the international hydrogen competition if the efforts to increase the number of hydrogen experts and innovations are accelerated in the next government programme for 2023–2027.
Education plays a key role in the hydrogen transition
FITech Network University received funding for educational provision, and the first courses of the hydrogen economy study module were launched in January this year. The education project is coordinated by Aalto University, and the universities of the FITech Network are jointly responsible for the preparation and implementation of the study module.
The JYU Department of Chemistry is involved in providing its own course for the study module. The course deals with basic hydrogen-related chemistry and presents different ways of hydrogen production and materials required. The Department of Chemistry also produces learning materials for other courses.
“It is important to understand basic chemistry related to hydrogen so that new innovations could be created,” Honkala says.
“The course that we provide deals with chemical reactions, how hydrogen is produced by means of thermocatalysis, electrocatalysis, and photocatalysis. In addition, we introduce used catalytic materials and present potential alternatives of what they could be in the future.”
The hydrogen economy study module was prompted by business life needs. In addition, staff from the member companies of the Hydrogen cluster Finland have also participated in the planning of the study module. The Hydrogen cluster Finland is a network created by companies of the hydrogen field, and the cluster already comprises more than 60 companies and six industry associations.
The study module provides broad-based expertise in engineering sciences, in particular, and it includes studies on basic chemistry, material technology, and related legislation as well as knowledge of the usage of hydrogen and related refined fuels in various work equipment and vehicles. The study module is intended for those already in working life as well as for doctoral students, but it is open for everybody and suits other enterprises, students, and policymakers.
“The module is designed so that those in working life can easily complete a number of study credits according to their preferences,” Honkala says. “”All courses are provided online and divided into appropriately small sections so that they can be easily and flexibly completed.”
In 2023, the Hydrogen Research Forum Finland will organise a summer school to extend the participants’ knowledge of the hydrogen economy and its possibilities. In addition, in August a seminar event will be organised dealing with the hydrogen economy.
New approaches to hydrogen production
Hydrogen-related research is also being pursued at the Department of Chemistry and the Nanoscience Center of the University of Jyväskylä. Several research teams of the Department of Chemistry are doing research in this field, and now the department is joining forces considering how cooperation on hydrogen research could be enhanced between the research teams.
Professor Karoliina Honkala from the Department of Chemistry as well as Professor Hannu Häkkinen from the departments of Chemistry and Physics are involved in a project funded by the Academy of Finland, which makes use of gold nanoclusters in hydrogen production. This Academy-funded project is led by Professor Tommi Kärkkäinen from the Faculty of Information Technology, who is engaged in close cooperation with respect to machine learning.
The project also involves a research team working in Japan with extensive experience from experimental research into the electrocatalytic properties of ligand-protected gold clusters.
“We are carrying out computational analyses of the properties of ligand-protected gold clusters with regard to making hydrogen from water by means of electrocatalysis,” Honkala says. “We are seeking to understand which properties make gold clusters equally good catalysts for hydrogen production as platinum, the best traditional and long-known electrocatalyst. At the same time, we are studying how the clusters’ electrocatalytic properties could be further enhanced.”
Hydrogen is also studied in senior lecturer Manu Lahtinen´s research team. A dissertation work funded by the Magnus Ehrnrooth Foundation investigates the suitability of photocatalysts based on porous metal-organic materials for the production of green hydrogen from water.
Metal-organic materials (MOF) are crystalline compounds based on 3-dimensionally continuous polymeric structures formed by organic ligands and metal cations, whose active sites in the channels can be utilized in various chemical and physical processes.
In the project, the aim is to modify the chemical composition of the materials in such a way that the light-trapping and catalytic properties of the compounds could be better suited for hydrogen production reactions.
The materials investigated include MOF materials based on transition metals, to which the organic ligands added, act as receivers of the light energy consumed in the reaction.
In addition to that, Lahtinen is supervising two bachelor’s theses and one master’s thesis related to the production of green hydrogen both electrolytically and photocatalytically.
Developing electrodes for hydrogen production
Electrodes are pivotal in the electrochemical production of hydrogen. An essential property of the efficiency of electrodes pertains to their active surface area. The usually efficient hydrogen production also needs to be facilitated with catalysts, which – depending on the technology used – tend to be expensive materials such as platinum. A team led by Professor Matti Haukka from the Department of Chemistry is developing 3D-printed electrodes, the porosity and surface area of which can be optimised.
“We make electrodes using the so-called powder bed process where active catalysts can be bound to the electrode surface by a simple single-stage printing,” Haukka explains. “As the printing material, we use a mixture of the catalyst, a support polymer, and an inductive component. Using the powder bed technique, we can spread and bind the precious catalytic component to the surface structure without wasting valuable material on the electrode’s bulk structure. This enables the use of an effective, catalytically active component so that its overall amount can be kept on a low level.”
In addition to the University of Jyväskylä, members of the Hydrogen Research Forum Finland include Aalto University, LUT University, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, the University of Vaasa, Åbo Akademi, the universities of Turku and Tampere as well as the University of Oulu, which is initially coordinating the forum’s activities
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