Portable fuel cells gets a new catalystDecember 1, 2012
Oxford University scientists develop new catalyst for portable fuel cells
Scientists from Oxford University in the United Kingdom have developed a new catalyst that could lead the way to a new generation of portable fuel cells. As energy technology becomes more advanced, fuel cells are becoming smaller, which also means that the energy systems are becoming much more portable. A portable fuel cell has a vast multitude of uses, one of the most popular being an energy source for mobile device such as smart phones and tablets. Researchers from the Oxford University believe that their catalyst may be the key to efficient portable fuel cells.
Catalyst made of copper nanoparticles and zinc gallium oxide
The catalyst that has been developed by scientists with the Oxford University is capable of converting methanol into hydrogen fuel at low temperatures. The process does not produce carbon monoxide, which is a common byproduct of converting methanol into hydrogen fuel. The absence of this corrosive gas means that the fuel cells have a much higher longevity than other portable energy systems. The catalyst is comprised of copper nanoparticles that are encased in zinc gallium oxide. The hydrogen that is produced by the catalyst is then fed into a proton exchange membrane, a process that generates electricity.
Catalyst well suited for small fuel cells
The catalyst is ideally suited for a portable fuel cell. Using the catalyst, researchers have demonstrated that a portable fuel cell could be used to power a variety of mobile devices in an efficient and safe manner. Oxford University researchers had initially intended for the catalyst to be used in fuel cells designed for vehicles. The catalyst has exhibited relatively low activity for such a purpose, but is considered viable for the use in small, portable fuel cells that can power electronic devices.
Replacing platinum continues to be top priority
Hydrogen fuel cells are becoming more popular but are still subject to criticism concerning their cost. Fuel cells are often considered expensive because of their use of platinum, which is used to build the catalysts that are used in most conventional fuel cell systems. Replacing platinum has been a major goal for the fuel cell industry and could go a long way in boosting the adoption of hydrogen fuel cells, portable or otherwise.