Björn Wickman
​Björn Wickman, Associate professor at the Department of Physics, is part of the research group that receives an award from the Royal Society of Chemistry for their research on hydrogen peroxide production. Photo: Anna-Lena Lundqvist​​​​​

Chalmers researcher awarded with Royal Society of Chemistry-prize

A collaboration of scientists from around the world have been named the winners of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s new Horizon Prize. Björn Wickman, Associate professor at the Department of Physics, was part of the research group that made the discovery that is now being awarded; a breakthrough in hydrogen peroxide production. 

Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical with a short shelf life that is used, among other things, as a bleaching agent in industry, but also for disinfection and purification of water. The production is often large-scale and energy intensive. In addition, transports of the substance from large factories are often required.

Eight years ago, a research group at the Technical University of Denmark made a discovery in how to produce hydrogen peroxide locally and on a smaller scale. The Royal Society of Chemistry is now naming the research group as the winners of the new Environment, Sustainability and Energy Division Horizon Prize: John Jeyes Award, which aims to draw attention to research that contributes to a better world.

Björn Wickman part of the research group

Chalmers researcher Björn Wickman, who at the time had a postdoctoral position at the Technical University of Denmark, was a part of the research group. That the discovery that is now being praised was even made was, however, a bit of a coincidence, he says:

“I was working on a project on reduction of carbon dioxide, but the experiments did not work as intended. At the same time, in another group, research on hydrogen peroxide was underway with calculations for how to produce hydrogen peroxide on a small scale and locally. We started talking and the idea arose that our concept might work for them. And it turned out to work great!”

Could achieve close to one hundred percent yield of hydrogen peroxide

Oxygen can be reduced by means of electrochemistry on a catalyst surface of, for example, platinum or palladium, so that hydrogen peroxide is obtained. The problem is that hydrogen peroxide then rapidly continues to reduce and form water. For the final step to take place, it is required that there are at least two atoms of the active catalyst material next to each other.

The researchers made a surface where there are no atoms of the catalyst material sitting next to each other. This was done with the help of an ordered alloy where the atoms are arranged without the active atoms bordering each other. The process could then achieve close to one hundred percent yield of hydrogen peroxide.

The research results showed how one could produce hydrogen peroxide in smaller volumes, and formed the basis of an article published in Nature Materials 2013.

Small-scale manufacturing is a reality today

Since then, the article has been cited over 400 times, laid the foundation for further research on the subject and led to small-scale hydrogen peroxide production becoming a reality. The project resulted in the company HPNow​, whose device known as an electrolyser, makes it possible to produce hydrogen peroxide on-site and on demand using solely water, electricity, and air as inputs. They now have installations in over 15 countries around the world, treating water at both hospitals and agricultural sites. 

This is what the Royal Society of Chemistry is now awarding with the Horizon Prize in the category Environment, Sustainability and Energy.

“It is now clear that our research has had impact. I feel honoured and I’m delighted that the Royal Society of Chemistry pays attention to our work and finds our research of importance”, says Björn Wickman.

About the Horizon Prize

United Kingdom-based Royal Society of Chemistry has the goal of advancing the chemical sciences. Their Horizon Prizes – new this year – highlight the most exciting, contemporary chemical science at the cutting edge of research and innovation. These prizes are for teams or collaborations who are opening up new directions and possibilities in their field, through ground-breaking scientific developments.

The Environment, Sustainability and Energy Division Horizon Prize 2021: John Jeyes Award is given to the research group consisting of the following researchers from Chalmers University of Technology, Imperial College London, University of Copenhagen, Technical University of Denmark, University of Calgary and BASE Life Science: Debasish Chakraborty, Ib Chorkendorff (Jubilee Professor at Chalmers, 2012), Davide Deiana, Maria Escudero-Escribano, Rasmus Frydendal, Ziv Gottesfeld, Thomas W. Hansen, Mohammadreza Karamad, Paolo Malacrida, Jan Rossmeisl, Samira Siarhostami, Ifan E.L. Stephens, Arnau Verdaguer-Casedevall and Björn Wickman.

For more information, please contact:
Björn Wickman, Associate professor, Department of Physics
+46 (0)31-772 51 79

Read more:

For more information about the prize, see the 
Royal Society of Chemistry's award page

The article Enabling direct H2O2 production through rational electrocatalyst design was published in Nature Materials. ​

Page manager Published: Fri 11 Jun 2021.