Fuel cells have been receiving a lot of attention in the scientific domain as one of the most promising alternative energy sources. When applying fuel cell technology to both the grid and automobiles, one issue is persistent: cost. Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory (ANNL) have been looking for a way to combat the price issues. Now, a team of researchers led by ECS member Di-Jia Liu have found a potential way to utilize fuel cells without the high cost of development and commercialization.
A New Catalyst
The team’s development revolves around the notion of using naturally abundant materials without sacrificing efficiency. Current, fuel cells work off a platinum catalyst, which is both expensive and scarce. The new catalyst eliminates the need for the precious material, all while demonstrating performance rates comparable to that of a platinum catalyst.
The scientists developed the new catalyst via the synthesis of a highly efficient, nanofibrous non-precious metal catalyst. If this technique proves to be commercially viable, it transition into automotive technology and extend the range of electric vehicles and potentially eliminate the need for charging.
The Future of Fuel Cells
Scientists have a lot of expectations when it comes to fuel cell technology. Not only are they efficient enough to compete with modern sources of energy, but they’re also environmentally friendly—a very important property in light of climate change.
However, depending on a precious metal for their development makes the commercialization of fuel cells difficult due to the high price point. The researchers at ANNL believe that their new catalysts could provide some relief in this area.
“Platinum represents about 50 percent of the cost of a fuel cell stack, so replacing or reducing platinum is essential to lowering the price of fuel cell vehicles,” said Di-Jia Liu, leader of the team at ANNL and ECS member.
This from ANNL:
Their catalyst replaces all the platinum in the fuel cell’s cathode, which usually requires four times as much platinum as the anode, and their new electrode design also optimizes the flow of protons and electrons within the fuel cell and the removal of water.
Commercialization of Fuel Cell Vehicles
This could mean big things for automobile technology, which many believe will head in the direction of fuel cells rather than battery.
“In order for a fuel cell to work,” Liu explained, “the catalyst must be densely packed with active sites that are uniformly distributed throughout the cathode and directly connected to the arriving protons and electrons, while maintaining easy access to oxygen. The catalyst should also have an architecture that can readily channel away the produced water.”
Find the research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America .