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High gravimetric energy density, earth-abundance, and environmental friendliness of hydrogen sources have inspired the utilization of hydrogen fuel as a clean alternative to fossil fuels. Hydrogen evolution reaction (HER), a half reaction of water splitting, is crucial to the low-cost production of pure H2 fuels but necessitates the use of electrocatalysts to expedite reaction kinetics. Owing to the availability of low-cost oxygen evolution reaction (OER) catalysts for the counter electrode in alkaline media and the lack of low-cost OER catalysts in acidic media, researchers have focused on developing HER catalysts in alkaline media with high activity and stability. Nickel is well-known as an HER catalyst and continuous efforts have been undertaken to improve Ni-based catalysts as alkaline electrolyzers. In this review, we summarize earlier studies of HER activity and mechanism on Ni surfaces, along with recent progress in the optimization of the Ni-based catalysts using various modern techniques. Recently developed Ni-based HER catalysts are categorized according to their chemical nature, and the advantages as well as limitations of each category are discussed. Among all Ni-based catalysts, Ni-based alloys and Ni-based hetero-structure exhibit the most promising electrocatalytic activity and stability owing to the fine-tuning of their surface adsorption properties via a synergistic nearby element or domain. Finally, selected applications of the developed Ni-based HER catalysts are highlighted, such as water splitting, the chloralkali process, and microbial electrolysis cell.

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Publication history

Received: 31 October 2015
Revised: 30 November 2015
Accepted: 01 December 2015
Published: 28 December 2015
Issue date: January 2016

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© Tsinghua University Press and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Acknowledgements

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by a Grant from Stanford GCEP, a Steinhart/Reed Award from the Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy, the Global Networking Talent 3.0 plan (NTUST 104DI005) from "the Ministry of Education of Taiwan", China and by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Division of Materials Sciences and Engineering under Award # DOE DE-SC0008684 (for carbon nanomaterials synthesis and characterization with advanced electrical properties).

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Email: nanores@tup.tsinghua.edu.cn

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