Cost of hydrogen fuel cells may soon drop due to catalyst breakthrough

Cost of hydrogen fuel cells may soon drop due to catalyst breakthrough

June 12, 2013 0 By John Max

Hydrogen fuel cells continue to struggle due to high costs

When it comes to hydrogen fuel cells, cost is a major issue that often determines whether these energy systems are used or abandoned in favor of less expensive alternatives. Indeed, the high cost of hydrogen fuel cells has prevented these energy systems from finding any significant traction beyond the auto industry, and cost may be what leads to the potential failure of that industry’s strong focus on these energy systems. The expensive nature of hydrogen fuel cells is due largely to the materials that are used in their development, the most expensive of which can be found in the catalysts that fuel cells use to operate.

Platinum catalysts contributing to cost problem

A catalyst is an integral part of a fuel cell energy system. This small, yet expensive component is responsible for hydrogen oxidation and oxygen reduction. A catalyst makes it possible for a fuel cell to generate electrical power from a particular fuel source, the most common of which is hydrogen. The purpose of a fuel cell often determines the size of the catalyst and the amount of material that is used in its creation. Fuel cell catalysts are almost exclusively comprised of platinum, which is a major contributor to the high cost of these energy systems.

Platinum - catalyst for hydrogen fuel cellsHydrogen fuel cells may benefit from new catalyst

Because cost has proven to be such a problematic issue, researchers around the world have been working to find an alternative to platinum. A team of such researchers from South Korea’s Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, as well as the Case Western Reserve University in the U.S., have developed a new fuel cell catalyst that does not use platinum. Instead, this catalyst is comprised of graphene and researchers suggest that it can outperform its platinum-based counterparts.

Catalyst could make hydrogen fuel cells more efficient and less expensive

According to researchers, the graphene-based catalyst was capable of generating 33% more current than platinum-based catalysts. The graphene catalysts were also recorded to be more durable and effective at storing electrical charge than others. This major breakthrough in catalyst technology could make fuel cells significantly less expensive, as their reliance on platinum may soon be broken.

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