Breakthrough could spell a brighter future for hydrogen fuel cells

May 21, 2015 0 By Stephen Vagus

New observation technique may be a boon for those interested in fuel cell technology

Toyota and the Japan Fine Ceramics Center have developed a new observation technique that could unlock a new generation of durable and efficient hydrogen fuel cells. The technique will allow for the real-time observation of fuel cell catalyst degradation and researchers will be able to monitor the behavior of platinum catalysts during the chemical  reactions that occur within a fuel cell stack. These reactions are part of how fuel cells generate electrical power.

Better understanding of platinum catalysts may make fuel cells more durable and efficient

Platinum is an important part of fuel cells, as it is used to make the catalysts that allow these energy systems to function. The catalyst allows chemical reactions between oxygen and hydrogen to take place, but these catalysts are both notoriously expensive and somewhat lacking in efficiency. The chemical reactions that take place within a hydrogen fuel cell are corrosive to the catalyst, which degrades over times and makes the fuel cell system less effective.

Observation technique allows for research into the coarsening effect

Hydrogne Fuel CellsThe observation technique could enable the more insight into the “coarsening” of the platinum nanoparticles that make up a catalyst. Coarsening is a process wherein these nanoparticles increase in size but decrease in surface area, which makes catalysts less durable and efficient. It had been impossible to observe this process in the past, but the new technique devised by Toyota and the Japan Fine Ceramics Center has now made it possible to do so.

Better fuel cells may be good news for the auto industry

Research with the observation method may help shed some light on ways to make hydrogen fuel cells more efficient and durable. This could make these energy systems significantly more attractive to those interested in hydrogen technologies, especially when it comes to clean transportation. Fuel cells have become quite popular in the auto industry, with several automakers looking for ways to improve these energy systems. Despite recent advances in fuel cell technology, it may be years before improvements to this technology will take hold in the commercial market.