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Introduction to the themed issue on frontiers of hydrogen energy and fuel cells

Lior Elbaz *, Minhua Shao *, Jianglan Shui * and Carlo Santoro *

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Lior Elbaz

Lior Elbaz received his BSc (2003), MSc (2005) and PhD (2009) from the Ben-Gurion University, Israel. He then worked as a postdoc at Los Alamos National Lab, US (2009–2013), he is currently an associate professor at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. His work focuses on the development of advanced PGM-free catalysts for fuel cells and electrolyzers, the development of hydrogen carriers, direct hydrogen carrier fuel cells, and advanced electrochemical methods. He is the head of the Israeli Fuel Cells Consortium, a representative in the International Energy Agency's Advanced Fuel Cells Executive Committee, a member of the Israeli Presidential Climate Forum, and the Director of the Hydrogen Technologies Labs (H2Tech) at Bar-Ilan University. He is the co-founder of two Israeli start-up companies, and the author of more than 70 peer-reviewed articles.

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Minhua Shao

Minhua Shao is a Cheong Ying Chan Professor of energy engineering and environment, chair professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). He is also the Director of the HKUST Energy Institute. He is an Associate Editor for the Journal of the Electrochemical Society. He has published over 240 peer-reviewed articles, 1 book and has filed over 30 patent applications (19 issued). He has also received a number of awards, including the International Outstanding Young Chemical Engineer Award (2022) and the Supramaniam Srinivasan Young Investigator Award from the ECS Energy Technology Division (2014). He is one of the founding members of the Young Academy of Science of Hong Kong and a fellow of the Electrochemical Society.

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Jianglan Shui

Jianglan Shui received his Bachelor degree from Tianjing University in 2000, his PhD from the University of Science and Technology of China (2006), and a second PhD from the University of Rochester (2010). From 2010–2014, Shui worked as a postdoc at Argonne National Laboratory and Case Western Reserve University. He became a professor at Beihang University, Beijing, China in 2015. His research focuses on electrocatalysts, PEM fuel cell and hydrogen storage materials. To date, he has published more than 100 papers, including in Science, Nature Nanotechnology and Nature Catalysis.

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Carlo Santoro

Carlo Santoro got his PhD at the University of Connecticut in 2009, working on microbial fuel cells. He moved to the University of New Mexico in 2013 working on platinum-free electrocatalysts for oxygen reduction reaction and supercapacitive bio-electrochemical systems. Following a spell as a lecturer at the University of Manchester (2020), he joined the University of Milano-Bicocca in 2021 as an assistant professor, where he established the Electrocatalysis and Bioelectrocatalysis Lab (EBLab). His work focuses on the development of electrocatalysts based on platinum-group metal-free materials for electrochemical systems, pursuing biomimetic and bioinspired approaches. He has published over 120 manuscripts and holds 2 patents.

Climate change calls for a change in the way we use and produce energy, and carbon-free has become the future direction of energy production and utilization. To obtain this, we must rely on sustainable energy sources such as wind and sun, but their intermittence limits the production of clean energy to only a few hours a day. To overcome this issue, energy storage and production technologies must be developed. Although several technologies have been proposed, the only viable scheme that could allow short-to-long-term storage and efficient energy transportation at-scale is the hydrogen economy, which relies on three pillars of technology: electrolyzers, hydrogen storage and fuel cells. In recent years, there have been rapid technological advances in hydrogen production, new hydrogen storage materials, and high-performance hydrogen fuel cells, etc. However, there are still numerous technological difficulties to overcome in each of these segments before hydrogen energy can be applied on a large scale. The current themed issue on hydrogen energy and fuel cells, addresses these difficulties and gives a comprehensive and high-level outlook to the studies conducted nowadays in these areas and some of the most interesting results and prospects.

As the first journal from the cooperation between the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Process Engineering of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Industrial Chemistry & Materials has always been committed to promoting the green revolution and innovation of the chemical industry and materials manufacturing from theory to practice. This themed issue focuses on the development of advanced catalysts for the reactions that occur in fuel cells: the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) and the hydrogen oxidation reaction, and showcases the work on advanced Pt-group metal-free (PGM-free) catalysts that are essential to replace PGMs in fuel cells because of their lower price. This is a very challenging task, since the current PGM-free ORR catalysts are considered inferior in performance when compared with catalysts with PGMs, especially in proton exchange membrane fuel cells. However, PGM-free catalysts do seem to be more suited for anion exchange membrane fuel cells, which have been making a significant leap in performance in durability in recent years, mainly due to improved polymer chemistry which allowed the use of advanced membrane and polyelectrolytes. Electrolyzers face a similar problem, mainly related to performance and durability. The lack of agreed-upon durability protocols hinders the focused progress in the field, but most recent results on PEM and AEM electrolyzers are also very promising. The third topic covered in this themed issue is hydrogen storage, addressed here in the use of chemical hydrogen carriers such as ammonia. These studies are at the forefront of the effort for realizing the full potential of the hydrogen economy, and hopefully will pave the way for a cleaner future.

As guest editors, we would like to thank the Editor-in-Chief, Suojiang Zhang, for the opportunity to support the production of this important themed issue, and we thank all contributing authors for their outstanding submissions, and give a special thanks to the associate editors, reviewers, and editorial office staff, for their efforts to make this wonderful themed issue come true.

Lior Elbaz: E-mail:

Minhua Shao: E-mail:

Jianglan Shui: E-mail:

Carlo Santoro: E-mail:

This journal is © Institute of Process Engineering of CAS 2023