Curtis BERLINGUETTE & Simon
#205, 1211-14th Street SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T3C 1C4
3800 Wesbrook Mall
V6S 2L9, Canada
FireWater Fuel Corp. (FFC) is on a path to make the hydrogen
economy a reality by implementing a game-changing catalyst
technology for producing hydrogen fuel from water and clean
electricity. The high-density hydrogen fuel can therefore act as a
storage medium for alternative technologies such as solar and
wind, or as a carbon neutral source for hydrogen that is used for
other commercial applications. The first generation of the FFC
technology demonstrated that a cheap nanoscaled form of catalyst
material can help drive the production of hydrogen fuels with
little energy input. The performance of the second-generation FFC
technology already outperforms the current state-of-the-art in
industry. Further exploiting this expertise in advanced materials,
FireWater Fuel Corp. is also developing electrocatalyst materials
in tandem with strategic multinational partners.
2014 11 21 I²CNER Seminar Series : Dr.
Curtis P. Berlinguette
Amorphous Mixed-Metal Oxides Tailored
for Water Oxidation Catalysis
Dr. Curtis P. Berlinguette,
Associate Professor, Chemistry and Chemical & Biological
Engineering, University of British Columbia, Canada
Friday, November 21, 2014 4:00 p.m.
I2CNER Hall, Ito campus, Kyushu University
The conversion of water into hydrogen fuel is a promising scheme
for the large-scale storage of solar electricity, but the
efficiency of the conversion process suffers from substantial
overpotentials. The development of efficient oxygen evolution
reaction (OER) catalysts is needed to more easily convert water
into hydrogen. We recently demonstrated that amorphous phases of
metal oxide films can be accessed through a facile photochemical
decomposition technique with precise composition control. This
presentation will detail the mechanistic details associated with
the electrochemistry of these films that display remarkably high
iF Day November 2011 - Dr. Curtis
UBC researchers hack high-tech process
using $10 heat lamp
VANCOUVER -- A team of UBC researchers has discovered a new way to
manufacture a high-tech material using equipment anyone can buy at
their local hardware store.
The new technique uses a simple heat lamp — available for about
$10 at Home Depot — to create a thin coating of an
electro-conductive metal on top of substances like glass, plastic
or other metals. The discovery could have applications in
everything from generating hydrogen fuels to developing bendable
“It’s actually a very cheap and accessible method for making a
pretty important type of material,” said UBC chemistry professor
Curtis Berlinguette, who co-wrote a paper introducing the method.
“You can now do this stuff in your basement.”
The scientists had expected the unorthodox method to work with
certain substances, but were pleasantly surprised to find that it
was effective with every metal they tried.
“The versatility of the method really did come as a surprise, and
that’s where we became quite excited,” Berlinguette said.
Older techniques required expensive chemicals and energy-draining
UV light, or even “clean rooms” free from dust and other
contaminants. The new process just calls for metal salts to be
blasted with the heat lamp for a short period of time.
It would be difficult to estimate exactly how much cheaper the new
method is, Berlinguette said, but he suggested it would be “at
least an order of magnitude” less expensive. Besides cost, another
advantage of the technique is that it can create
electro-conductive coatings on plastic without melting it, which
means it might be used in things like smart textiles and flexible
Berlinguette is hopeful that the discovery could lead to more
efficient ways of generating hydrogen fuels through electrolysis,
and suggested it might be used for something called an
electrochromic window — glass that can darken or become more
opaque when electric voltage is applied.
The team believes the method could be used for manufacturing on a
large scale and they’re planning to patent their discovery. In
fact, they’re already speaking with one company about potential
“This is all still really early-stage stuff. It’s a brand new
discovery, so we’re really excited about the potential,”
He added that there are still many questions to be answered about
the new method, including the optimum temperature range for the
heat lamp and the unique properties of the coating it produces.
And he said older methods may still be better for certain
March 28, 2013
A Cheaper Way to Make Hydrogen from
University of Calgary researchers create
new method for making water-splitting catalysts using abundant
One of the main barriers blocking wide-scale use of fuel cells is
the expensive catalysts used to produce hydrogen fuel from water.
Researchers at the University of Calgary say they have developed a
novel method for making catalysts using inexpensive metals.
** Two electrodes coated with Fe40Ni60O films produce hydrogen
and oxygen from water using less electricity than without a
Two chemistry professors — Curtis Berlinguette and Simon
Trudel—today published a paper in Science showing how their
electrocatalysts perform as well as more expensive materials. They
have patented their production method and have formed a company
called FireWater Fuel which plans to have a product available as
early as next year. The goal is to make an electrolyzer—a device
that splits water to make hydrogen and oxygen fuels—that is
affordable enough for businesses and consumers.
Their invention is making catalysts from a combination of metals
compounds that use iron, cobalt, and nickel. The process, which
treats metal compounds or oxides with light, doesn’t require high
“The discovery in our paper is the ability to make catalyst films
with a uniform distribution of multiple metals,” Berlinguette
says. “We use a technique that uses light to decompose
environmentally benign precursors in air into our catalytic films.
The process is scalable and translates to almost every metal in
the periodic table.”
Conventional catalysts are made with rare or expensive metals,
such as platinum. The Calgary researchers’ method produces films
that are amorphous in their molecular shape, rather than a
crystalline structure. That highly disordered structure actually
makes them more reactive.
Harvard professor Daniel Nocera, while at MIT, introduced a
low-cost catalyst made of an amorphous cobalt oxide for splitting
water to make hydrogen fuel. A company called Sun Catalytix was
formed in 2009 using venture and government funding to
commercialize his work but it has struggled to make a viable
product and has since shifted its focus to making flow batteries.
(See, Sun Catalytix Seeks Second Act with Flow Battery.)
Berlinguette says he and Trudel have advanced previous work
because their process can be used on any metal on the Periodic
Table and combines multiple metals. “Amorphous heterogeneous
catalysts are well known,” he says. “The problem is that it is
difficult to make amorphous materials with many other metals (than
cobalt oxide) and it is infinitely more difficult to introduce
multiple types of metals into amorphous films.”
A commercially viable electrolyzer is considered a key component
to the long-sought hydrogen economy. A good catalyst can lower the
amount of electricity that is needed to produce hydrogen and
oxygen from water. The hydrogen would then be stored in tanks and
fed into fuel cell to produce electricity as needed.
Initially, FireWater Fuel intends to develop an electrolyzer to
produce hydrogen for energy storage at wind farms. It intends to
create a commercial prototype of a freezer-size electrolyzer that
would convert a few liters of water a day to electricity for
consumers by 2015.
Photochemical Route for Accessing
Amorphous Metal Oxide Materials for Water Oxidation
Rodney D. L. Smith, Mathieu S. Prévot, Randal D. Fagan,
Zhipan Zhang, Pavel A. Sedach, Man Kit Jack Siu, Simon
Trudel*, Curtis P. Berlinguette*
Large-scale electrolysis of water for hydrogen generation requires
better catalysts to lower the kinetic barriers associated with the
oxygen evolution reaction (OER). While most OER catalysts are
based on crystalline mixed-metal oxides, high activities can also
be achieved with amorphous phases. Methods for producing amorphous
materials, however, are not typically amenable to mixed-metal
compositions. We demonstrate that a low-temperature process,
photochemical metal-organic deposition, can produce amorphous
mixed-metal oxide films for OER catalysis. The films contain a
homogeneous distribution of metals with compositions that can be
accurately controlled. The catalytic properties of amorphous iron
oxide prepared with this technique are superior to hematite, while
those of a-Fe100-y-zCoyNizOx are comparable to noble metal oxide
catalysts currently used in commercial electrolyzers.
Science Advances ( 6 Mar 2015 ) Vol. 1, no. 2,
Near-infrared–driven decomposition of
metal precursors yields amorphous electrocatalytic films
Danielle A. Salvatore, Kevan E. Dettelbach, Jesse R. Hudkins
and Curtis P. Berlinguette
Amorphous metal-based films lacking long-range atomic order have
found utility in applications ranging from electronics
applications to heterogeneous catalysis. Notwithstanding, there is
a limited set of fabrication methods available for making
amorphous films, particularly in the absence of a conducting
substrate. We introduce herein a scalable preparative method for
accessing oxidized and reduced phases of amorphous films that
involves the efficient decomposition of molecular precursors,
including simple metal salts, by exposure to near-infrared (NIR)
radiation. The NIR-driven decomposition process provides
sufficient localized heating to trigger the liberation of the
ligand from solution-deposited precursors on substrates, but
insufficient thermal energy to form crystalline phases. This
method provides access to state-of-the-art electrocatalyst films,
as demonstrated herein for the electrolysis of water, and extends
the scope of usable substrates to include nonconducting and
…We report here a previously untested method for generating
amorphous metal-based films, in the reduced and oxidized phases,
that relies merely on the exposure of transition metal salts [for
example, MClx and M(NO3)x] to near-infrared (NIR) radiation under
inert and aerobic environments, respectively (Fig. 1). This method
is distinctive from the UV-driven photochemical decomposition of
metal complexes (8) in that it is ultimately a thermally driven
process and therefore does not require photoactive precursors.
Notwithstanding, this NIR-driven decomposition (NIRDD) process
furnishes amorphous metal oxide films that display properties
commensurate with films prepared by more complex methods and
precursors, yet is amenable to curing techniques widely used in
large-scale manufacturing processes, including roll-to-roll
processing (22, 23). We therefore contend that NIRDD represents a
significant advance toward a solar fuel economy, which will
invariably require electrocatalysts to efficiently mediate
small-molecule transformations. Moreover, NIRDD provides access to
reduced phases of amorphous films using moderate experimental
conditions. We demonstrate the broad use of this fabrication
technique herein by examining the formation of amorphous oxide
films containing metals of relevance to the OER reaction [for
example, iron (7, 8), iridium (18, 24), manganese (6, 25), nickel
(7, 8, 26), and copper (27, 28)]. We also provide evidence that
NIRDD, which works despite substrate temperatures not reaching
200°C (fig. S1), can also be extended to substrates that are
nonconducting and sensitive to temperature and UV radiation by
documenting amorphous metal oxide film formation interfaced with
Fig. 1 Scheme of NIRDD.
The NIRDD of a metal precursor (for example, FeCl3) on a substrate
[for example, fluorine-doped tin oxide–coated glass (FTO)] leads
to the formation of amorphous metal oxide (a-MOx) and reduced
metal (a-M) films under air and nitrogen, respectively.
March 28, 2013
New inexpensive, efficient catalysts
offer viable way to store and reuse renewable energy
Two University of Calgary researchers have developed a
ground-breaking way to make new affordable and efficient catalysts
for converting electricity into chemical energy.
Their technology opens the door to homeowners and energy companies
being able to easily store and reuse solar and wind power. Such
energy is clean and renewable, but it's available only when the
sun is shining or the wind is blowing.
The research by Curtis Berlinguette and Simon Trudel, both in the
chemistry department in the Faculty of Science, has just been
published in Science.
"This breakthrough offers a relatively cheaper method of storing
and reusing electricity produced by wind turbines and solar
panels," says Curtis Berlinguette, associate professor of
chemistry and Canada Research Chair in Energy Conversion.
"Our work represents a critical step for realizing a large-scale,
clean energy economy," adds Berlinguette, who's also director of
the university's Centre for Advanced Solar Materials.
Simon Trudel, assistant professor of chemistry, says their work
"opens up a whole new field of how to make catalytic materials. We
now have a large new arena for discovery."
The pair have patented their technology and created from their
university research a spin-off company, FireWater Fuel Corp., to
commercialize their electrocatalysts for use in electrolyzers.
Electrolyzer devices use catalysts to drive a chemical reaction
that converts electricity into chemical energy by splitting water
into hydrogen and oxygen fuels. These fuels can then be stored and
re-converted to electricity for use whenever wanted.
The only byproduct from such a 'green' energy system is water,
which can be recycled through the system.
To store and provide renewable power to a typical house would
require an electrolyzer about the size of a beer fridge,
containing a few litres of water and converting hydrogen to
electricity with virtually no emissions, the researchers say.
Key to their discovery is that they deviated from conventional
thinking about catalysts, which typically are made from rare,
expensive and toxic metals in a crystalline structure.
Instead, Berlinguette and Trudel turned to simpler production
methods for catalysts. This involved using abundant metal
compounds or oxides (including iron oxide or 'rust'), to create
mixed metal oxide catalysts having a disordered, or amorphous,
Laboratory tests – reported in their Science paper – show their
new catalysts perform as well or better than expensive catalysts
now on the market, yet theirs cost 1,000 times less.
Their research was supported by the university's Institute for
Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy, Alberta Innovates,
Mitacs and FireWater Fuel Corp.
FireWater Fuel Corp. expects to have a commercial product in the
current large-scale electrolyzer market in 2014, and a prototype
electrolyzer – using their new catalysts – ready by 2015 for
testing in a home.
What have the two University of Calgary researchers discovered?
They have discovered a ground-breaking way to make new affordable
and highly efficient catalysts (called electrocatalysts) for
converting electricity into chemical energy. A catalyst is a
substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction.
Why are electrocatalysts useful?
Electrocatalysts are used in electrolyzers, devices that split
water into hydrogen and oxygen through a chemical reaction driven
by electricity. The hydrogen can then be stored and re-converted
to electricity for use whenever wanted.
Scientists have been working for several decades on the problem of
trying to make efficient and inexpensive electrocatalysts.
Today's commercial electrocatalysts are typically made of
crystalline metal oxides (any chemical compound that has a metal)
using rare, expensive and/or toxic metals (e.g. ruthenium,
iridium). Such catalysts work well but their prohibitive cost
makes them impractical for widespread use, such as in homes and by
What makes the electrocatalysts created by the U of Calgary
researchers different than conventionally made, commercial
Chemists have traditionally been attracted to creating catalysts
out of 'pure' crystalline-structured materials. They've tended to
ignore unstructured material as the "crud at the bottom of the
"There really have been few significant advances in catalyst
design over the last three decades," Berlinguette says.
He and Trudel developed a novel process that uses cheap, abundant
and non-toxic metals (e.g. iron, cobalt, nickel) combined in a
highly disordered, or amorphous, structure.
Think of crystalline structures as being like tiles laid in an
ordered pattern on a floor, while amorphous structures are like
tiles thrown on a floor. Such an amorphous material has no
symmetry and is full of 'defects.'
These 'defects' in amorphous mixed metal oxide materials actually
make them more chemically reactive – and therefore more efficient
catalysts – than crystalline materials.
Laboratory tests by the U of Calgary researchers show their
catalysts perform as well as or better than catalysts now on the
market – but theirs are 1,000 times cheaper.
"We're essentially showing, even with our 'first generation' of
catalysts, that we're equal to or better than anything that's sold
commercially right now after 30 years of development," Trudel
The researchers say they can utilize any metal in the periodic
table and are able to combine as many metals as they want into
"Our fabrication method provides access to an entirely new domain
of catalytic materials," Berlinguette says.
What is the significance of this discovery?
The U of Calgary researchers are the first group in the world to
utilize their scalable photochemical process to make heterogeneous
mix-metal amorphous electrocatalysts for clean hydrogen
"As far as we know, there is no other method to easily make
amorphous materials where we can combine the metals in any ratio
we desire. Now the 'fun' is trying to hit the composition that
produces the best catalysts," Trudel says.
What application does their discovery have in the 'real' world?
Having cheap and efficient electrocatalysts would enable
homeowners and energy companies to store and reuse, whenever
needed, intermittently generated electricity such as solar and
There is currently no inexpensive way of storing such renewable
energy. So electricity generated by the sun or the wind is
available only when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.
Electrocatalysts are used in devices called electrolyzers, which
convert electricity into chemical energy by splitting water into
hydrogen and oxygen fuels. These fuels can then be stored and
reconverted to electricity for use whenever wanted. The only
byproduct of such a 'green' energy system is water, which can be
recycled through the system.
"This is a completely repeatable and carbon-neutral cycle . . .
it's not using carbon at all," Trudel says.
Batteries can also be used to store electricity generated by wind
and solar power. However, current battery technology is very
inefficient compared with hydrogen, which can store much more
energy than batteries.
"The principal role of hydrogen in the energy economy is the
storage of solar and wind energy," Berlinguette says.
Cheap and efficient catalysts would provide homeowners and
businesses with affordable electrolyzers.
"People could actually start storing renewable energy when it's
available and keep that in their house all day and take advantage
of it at night," Trudel says.
For example, all of Alberta's wind power farms are located in the
southern region of the province where wind conditions are optimum.
But when the wind blows, they all produce electricity at the same
That drives down the price at which wind farm operators can sell
their power to the provincial electrical grid.
What if operators had an affordable way to store that
wind-generated electricity, using an electrolyser?
They could then store their wind power as hydrogen, and reconvert
to electricity when there's greater demand and they can get a
higher price for their clean power.
Electrolyzers with cheap, efficient catalysts could be sized to a
homeowner's furnace room, or scaled up to a tractor trailer-sized
unit that would store renewable power as hydrogen for reuse by a
community, in a 'green' district energy system.
"Electrolyzers effectively enable you to purchase electricity at a
discounted rate when there is no demand, and sell back to the grid
at peak times," Berlinguette says.
What are the next steps for the U of Calgary researchers?
The researchers are testing various formulations of their
amorphous mixed metal oxide catalysts, to better understand the
materials and design the optimal catalysts. This includes using
proven nanotechnology methods to increase the amount of hydrogen
They also are working toward making a "photo-electrocatalyst,"
which uses sunlight to increase the hydrogen produced by the
They have patented both their process for creating their
electrocatalysts as well as the new catalysts they've created, and
they've established a spin-off company, FireWater Fuel Corp., to
commercialize their technology.
The company expects to have a commercial product in the current
large-scale electrolyzer market in 2014, and a prototype
electrolyzer – using their new catalysts – ready by 2015 for
testing in a home.
Low Cost Renewable Energy Storage With Hydrogen
The problem of storing energy from renewable sources is a great
limitation of alternative energy technology. The solutions are
either inefficient or unaffordable. Host Steve Curwood speaks with
Curtis Berlinguette from the University of Calgary about his
team's research into a more affordable and efficient mechanism to
store renewable power...
ELECTROCATALYTIC FILMS COMPRISING AMORPHOUS METALS OR
METAL-OXIDES PREPARED USING NEAR-INFRARED DECOMPOSITION OF
Inventor(s): BERLINGUETTE CURTIS
Applicant(s): FIREWATER FUEL CORP
The present invention provides a method for making materials and
electrocatalytic materials comprising amorphous metals or metal
oxides. This method provides a scalable preparative approach for
accessing state-of-the-art electrocatalyst films, as demonstrated
herein for the electrolysis of water, and extends the scope of
usable substrates to include those that are non not conducting
and/or three-dimensional electrodes.
ELECTROCATALYTIC MATERIALS AND METHODS FOR MANUFACTURING
The present invention provides an electrocatalytic material and a
method for making an electrocatalytic material. There is also
provided an electrocatalytic material comprising amorphous metal
or mixed metal oxides. There is also provided methods of forming
an electrocatalyst, comprising an amorphous metal oxide film.