Novel tungsten carbide electrocatalysts for green hydrogen electrolysis

Case Study

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Royce’s Industrial Collaboration Project (ICP) awarded £169,612.06 to a project from Hardide Coatings to develop new catalyst materials to enable the direct electrolysis of seawater for the sustainable and cost-effective production of hydrogen. The research was conducted using Cranfield University’s facilities and the University of Manchester. The research aims to reduce the costs of green hydrogen production without increasing freshwater stress.

Platinum group elements (PGE) are currently used as the catalysts for production of green hydrogen through electrolysis. The current production of iridium and platinum catalysts can only support an estimated 3–7.5 GW annual manufacturing capacity, which is insufficient to meet the net-zero annual capacity requirement of ~100 GW by 2030. A transition to cheaper and more abundant catalytic materials is therefore urgently required. Tungsten-carbide coatings developed in this project have been identified as an attractive candidate, as they exhibit a platinum-like electronic structure due to similarities of their d-band electronic density state.

This project has successfully demonstrated scalable synthesis of various Tungsten carbide formulation through optimisation of the coating process parameters with emphasis on the crystal phase to achieve the highest cathodic hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) activity. One of the optimised coating variants have shown a comparable HER overpotential to high purity platinum in neutral pH without significant degradation for >100 hours. This coating has also shown to generate hydrogen at ~40% higher mass flow rate than that of commercial titanium bipolar plates under the same current density. This finding strongly suggests the coating as a very promising candidate to fully replace PGE as electrocatalysts for green hydrogen production. 

Royce at Cranfield provided the expertise and facilities in electrochemistry, including potentiodynamic polarisation and corrosion, and materials characterisation, including scanning electron microscopy, x-ray diffraction, and Raman spectroscopy, critical for the success of this project. Royce at Manchester is to provide additional atomistic materials characterisation using transmission electron microscopy and photoelectron spectroscopy.

Successful development and application of the coatings to an industrial scale as replacement of PGE catalysts and titanium bipolar plates will contribute to the reduction of CAPEX and OPEX of green hydrogen generation. This minimises the dependency of UK net-zero economy on critical minerals. The importance and timeliness of this project are reflected by its alignment to point 2 of Royce-IOM3 UK Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution and Royce 2021 report on Materials for End-to-End Hydrogen.

“In this work, we successfully developed novel coatings manufactured by scalable technique for potential use as alternative electrocatalysts to produce green hydrogen by seawater electrolysis. This finding opens a promising pathway for full replacement of PGE electrocatalysts to minimise the dependency of UK net-zero economy on critical minerals.”

-Dr. Yuri Zhuk
Hardide Coatings, Technical Director


In this project Hardide Coatings, Cranfield University and The University of Manchester have collaborated to work towards the development, characterisation, and testing of new coating variants that are free from platinum group elements (PGE) for use as an electrocatalyst in green hydrogen production. 

Hardide Coatings is the leading global innovator and provider of advanced tungsten carbide/tungsten metal matrix composite coatings.  The focus of this work was on the optimisation of the coating formulations to improve their electrocatalytic activities and corrosion resistant capabilities. This work capitalises Hardide’s expertise to engineer the coating formulations according to the requirement of certain applications and facilities to manufacture these coatings in industrial scale.  

Cranfield University provided key expertise and facilities for materials characterisation and electrochemistry tests. This includes potentiodynamic polarisation, corrosion test, scanning electron microscopy, x-ray diffraction, and Raman spectroscopy. The findings on the coating characteristics, properties, and catalytic activities were fed back to Hardide for optimisation of the coating variants.  

The University of Manchester’s assistance in this project was to provide atomistic understanding of the coatings through the use of their advanced material characterisation facilities including x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy analysis and high-resolution transmission electron microscopy analysis of the optimised coatings.