New catalyst research could lead to more affordable fuel cells

New catalyst research could lead to more affordable fuel cells

September 3, 2012 0 By Stephen Vagus

Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute fuel cells research

Catalysts continue to make fuel cells unattractive due to cost of materials

Hydrogen fuel cells are promising energy systems, but have been confronted with several significant problems that have inhibited their adoption. The chief among these problems is affordability. Fuel cells are often expensive energy systems because of their use of costly materials, such as platinum. Platinum is used to create the catalysts that make fuel cells function properly. The use of platinum, and other expensive materials, spikes the cost of fuel cell manufacture. In turn, this affects the cost commercial cost of fuel cells as manufacturers attempt to attain some degree of profitability.

New method capable of examining catalyst nanoparticles

Catalysts are typically comprised of platinum nanoparticles, which are frequently used but not extensively understood. A better understanding of the behavior of nanoparticles in catalysts could mean better manipulation of fuel cell materials, which could translate into more affordable fuel cells. Nongjian Tao, a researcher from the Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, has devised a way to measure the catalytic reactions of single nanoparticles as well as multiple particles printed in arrays. Tao believes that his method may lead to the development of more efficient and cost effective fuel cells and may even lead to the discovery of a new kind of fuel cell catalyst.

Measuring nanoparticle catalytic reactions could lead to more effective fuel cells

By measuring the specific catalytic reactions of a single nanoparticule, Tao believes researchers can attain a better understanding of the relationship between catalysts and fuel cells. Through Tao’s method, the catalytic reactions of nanoparticpes can be examined before they are introduced into an actual catalyst. This would allow researchers to find a material that is ideally suited for use in a fuel cell before money is invested in the development of a catalyst that makes use of that material.

New catalyst could bring fuel cells into  the mainstream

Better catalysts will lead to better fuel cells. Currently, platinum is the favored material for fuel cells because of its resilience to the corrosive conditions that exist inside of the energy systems. The material is expensive, however, and has made fuel cells unattractive for many businesses that are expressing interest in alternative energy. Catalysts that make use of a more affordable material that does not sacrifice the performance of a fuel cell may make the energy systems more widely accepted.