Hydrogen fuel cells have long promised to usher in a new era of energy independence for the world. One of the main reasons they have not achieved that lofty goal, however, is due to their lack of durability. The catalysts used in the fuel cells are quite expensive, but fall short where endurance is concerned. The catalysts are made out of platinum, which does not lend itself well to the chemical reactions occurring within the cells. Over time, they fall prey to oxidation and become useless. It is widely believed among fuel cell developers that an alternative to platinum catalysts must be found.
A team of engineers at the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science may have found a way to remove catalysts from the equation entirely through the use of nano-technology. The team has created a system made up of nanowires, made from a material known as bulk metallic grass. The system replaces the need of a platinum catalyst, but operates in the same capacity – facilitating chemical reactions within the fuel cell for the production of hydrogen gas.
According to the team, the nanowire system performs 2.4 times more effectively than conventional catalysts. The material used for the nanowires is also inexpensive, which will bring down the overall cost of fuel cells. More importantly, no major modifications need to be made to the unit itself in order to incorporate the new system.
Extensive testing still needs to be conducted before the system can see commercial use, but the team has high hopes that nano-technology will be what carries hydrogen fuel cells into viability.