Brookhaven National Laboratory develops new catalyst for fuel cells

Brookhaven National Laboratory develops new catalyst for fuel cells

May 12, 2012 0 By Stephen Vagus

Researchers work to make fuel cells more affordable

The U.S. Department of Energy has recently increased its support for the research and development of hydrogen fuel cells in the hopes of making the energy systems more financially viable for the country. Hydrogen fuel has been targeted as a promising alternative to fossil-fuels, particularly foreign oil, and could help the country establish energy independence and sustainability. One of the major detractors of hydrogen fuel cells, however, is that they are expensive energy systems. Researchers from the Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) may have found a way to make fuel cells more affordable.

A viable replacement for platinum catalysts developed by the Brookhaven National Laboratory

The reason fuel cells are so expensive is because they require costly materials, such as platinum, in order to function. Platinum is used to create catalysts that are used within fuel cells to generate hydrogen gas. Without this catalyst, fuel cells would be unable to produce electricity, thus rendering them an ineffective energy system. Replacing this catalyst has been a popular topic for scientists and many have tried to accomplish this feat with varying degrees of success. BNL researchers believe they have found a way to replace platinum catalysts without sacrificing the performance of fuel cells.

Catalyst uses inexpensive materials but is nearly as effective as platinum

Instead of using platinum, researchers have developed a catalyst that is made of nickel, molybdenum and nitrogen. These materials are used to create a nanosheet that is resistant to the chemical processes that occur within a fuel cell. The nanosheet can separate hydrogen from water and produce enough of the gas for a fuel cell to generate large amounts of electricity. Researchers note that it is not as effective as platinum catalysts, but it is more efficient.

New catalyst cited as being 1,000 times less expensive than conventional models

The nanosheet is scalable, meaning that it is viable for commercialization and can be used in any type of hydrogen fuel cell, mobile or stationary. Researchers claim that the new catalyst is 1,000 times less expensive than platinum, which could have major implications for the fuel cell industry as it would make hydrogen fuel much more economically viable than the alternative energy is today.

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