A clean energy future propelled by hydrogen fuel depends on figuring out how to reliably and efficiently split water. That’s because, even though hydrogen is abundant, it must be derived from another substance that contains it—and today, that substance is often methane gas. Scientists are seeking ways to isolate this energy-carrying element without using fossil fuels. That would pave the way for hydrogen-fueled cars, for example, that emit only water and warm air at the tailpipe. Water, or H2O, unites hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen atoms in the form of molecular hydrogen must be separated out from this compound. That process depends on a key—but often slow—step: the oxygen evolution reaction (OER). The OER is what frees up molecular oxygen from water, and controlling this reaction is important not only to hydrogen production but a variety of chemical processes, including ones found in batteries.
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