Our master student Tomáš Hrbek has received the Dean's Prize, which is awarded yearly to the authors of four best bachelor's and four best master's theses defended that year across the faculty. Tomáš was awarded for his bachelor's thesis named "Study of the effect of thin film catalyst morphology on efficiency of water electrolyzer with proton conducting membrane". The committee, chaired by the Vice-Dean for Student Affairs, described the thesis as an "excellent experimental work" and noted its original results, which are now the subject of a patent application.
Tomáš demonstrated in his thesis that the power-to-cost ratio of a proton-exchange-membrane water electrolyzer can be improved significantly by using an unconventional method of preparation of catalysts used in such electrolyzers. Tomáš etched both sides of the proton-exchange membrane and deposited the catalysts (iridium at the anode side and platinum at the cathode side) directly on it, all of that by magnetron sputtering. The procedure is essentially the same as what Dr. Yakovlev and co-workers did for a fuel cell, and the results are similarly positive. Tomáš's membrane-electrode assembly performed slightly better than the reference assembly, while containing the same amount of iridium and fivefold less platinum.
The above was not the only positive result. In another part of the thesis, Tomáš showed that the efficiency of the iridium anode catalyst can be further increased by a relatively simple electrochemical treatment—cycling the anode between −2 V and +1 V with the presence of nitrogen at the anode and hydrogen at the cathode.
Photo: Three of the award-winning students, Tomáš Hrbek in the middle.