Researchers develop new catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells

August 27, 2014 0 By Bret Williams

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Stanford University researchers have created a new fuel cell catalyst

A team of researchers from Stanford University have created a new catalyst that could lead to less expensive fuel cells in the future. Cost has long been a problematic issue for hydrogen fuel cells. While these energy systems are able to produce a large amount of electrical power without also producing emissions, they are notoriously expensive, making their use somewhat limited. The high cost of fuel cells is largely due to the platinum that comprises their catalysts.

An alternative to platinum is needed

Catalysts are what power the electrochemical processes of a hydrogen fuel cell. Without the catalyst, a fuel cell does not have the ability to produce electrical power through the consumption of hydrogen. Platinum is largely considered to be the best material from which catalysts can be made, due to the durable nature of this material. Platinum is, of course, expensive, which makes fuel cells expensive and unattractive from a financial standpoint. Researchers around the world have been experimenting with alternatives to platinum, but very few have managed to find any success in this endeavor.

Nickel-based catalyst could allow fuel cells to produce inexpensive energy

Stanford University - Hydrogen Fuel ResearchThe team from Stanford University has developed a nickel-based catalyst that may be a sufficient replacement for its platinum counterparts. The catalyst is comprised of nanoscale nickel oxide and nickel heterostructures formed on carbon nanotubes. This catalyst can split water into its component parts of oxygen and hydrogen using a lower voltage than conventional catalysts. This means that the catalyst can produce hydrogen without consuming a large amount of electrical power in order to do so.

Fuel cells continue to fight to overcome their challenges

While fuel cells are becoming more important, their adoption is slow due to the concerns that surround these energy systems. One of the issues facing fuel cells has to do with their ability to produce and use hydrogen as a fuel. Hydrogen production is currently an energy intensive process which renders fuel cells somewhat inefficient if they cannot produce more electrical power than they consume. New catalysts and better hydrogen production methods can solve this particular problem.