Researchers develop new catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells

September 8, 2014 0 By John Max

New catalyst could be a major breakthrough for the world of hydrogen fuel

Researchers from the Kyushu University in Japan have made a significant breakthrough in fuel cell technology. The researchers have developed a new catalyst that promises to be less expensive and more capable than conventional models. Most modern fuel cells are equipped with catalysts comprised of platinum. This material is favored for its electrochemical properties, but is also notoriously expensive. Platinum is one of the primary reasons why fuel cells are as costly as they are and researchers have been working to find an alternative to platinum catalysts for several years.

Researchers use H2ase S-77 to build new fuel cell catalyst

The catalyst developed by the research team from Kyushu University is based on an enzyme called H2ase S-77. The enzyme was discovered in an active volcano located on Kyushu Island. The enzyme is a type of hydrogenase, but unlike other hydrogenases, it can continue producing electrons from hydrogen molecules even when it is exposed to oxygen. This has made it a very promising alternative to platinum and researchers have found that it can even outperform platinum as a catalyst in some cases.

The enzyme is 600 times more active than platinum

hydrogen fuel reserach - fuel cell catalystThe research team has developed a fuel cell that has no platinum anode, using H2ase S-77 instead. The team discovered that the enzyme demonstrated a mass activity that was 600 times greater than that of platinum. This means that the enzyme catalyst was significantly more effective and efficient and triggering electrochemical processes within a fuel cell. The issue, however, is that the catalyst developed by the research team is still in early stages of testing. It is unknown whether or not the catalyst would be able to continue operating at such a high standard for any prolonged period of time.

Platinum still favored for its resiliency

One of the reasons platinum has become the overarching standard when it comes to fuel cells is because the material is very resilient to the corrosive environments found within these energy systems. Researchers have found numerous materials that can perform on par with platinum in terms of electrochemical potential, but many of these materials are not durable enough to be used in fuel cells.