The new catalyst is amorphous without having any distinct structure. It is not stable in form and breaks down after performing its job. But it has the ability to repair itself which enables it to work continuously.
In the experimental method adopted by Nocera, he inserts an indium tin oxide electrode in a container of water. That water was already mixed with cobalt and potassium phosphate. When he applied voltage to that electrode, the chemicals – cobalt, potassium and phosphate—present in the water gather on the electrode, making the catalyst. The oxidation process takes place due to that catalyst and water molecules splits producing oxygen gas and hydrogen ions. Hydrogen ions convert into hydrogen gas by reacting with the platinum catalyst coated electrode. As the hydrogen gas is produced, this cobalt-based catalyst cracks down. But as the solutions contain cobalt and potassium in it, both accumulate on the electrode and thus repair the catalyst.
That development was the part of the research program towards developing artificial photosynthesis inspired by the original photosynthesis process which produces useful fuels, such as hydrogen.
By this method Nocera has resolved the biggest issue in the development process of artificial photosynthesis regarding producing oxygen from water molecules.
Two steps still remain which also should be taken. Firstly there is a need to change expensive platinum material which is being used as a catalyst for making hydrogen from hydrogen ions. It should be replace with a cheap and abundant material similarly Nocera done with the oxygen catalyst.
Cheaper catalyst is not much difficult to find because there are many new materials which could be a good substitute to that expensive one. This was stated by John Turner, who is a principal investigator at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in Golden, Co.
The second issue which should also be resolved is that there is a need of development of a material which could produce electrons to power the water-splitting catalysts by absorbing sunlight.
There is still much engineering work needed to be done before putting the Nocera’s catalyst in commercial devices. The rate of oxygen production should be improved. Nocera and his co-researchers are confident that engineering work will be completed quickly and it will be soon in commercial use.