Researchers create rare-earth materials to make fuel cells more affordableApril 10, 2012
Fuel cell researchers team up to find cost cutting production means.
Hydrogen fuel cells receive a great deal of criticism for how expensive they are to manufacture. The price of fuel cells is often cited as one of the primary reasons hydrogen fuel has not yet been met with widespread commercial acceptance. One of the reasons fuel cells are so expensive is because they are constructed using rare-earth materials, such as platinum. Using these materials has been the subject of much debate in the worlds of technology and alternative energy. The common consensus is that these materials must be substituted if fuel cells are to be used commercially. Researchers from the Universities of Warwick and Birmingham in the United Kingdom believe that rare-earth materials are actually the answer to the problem.
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Researchers from the universities have developed new materials based on existing rare-earth minerals. The materials can be used with any low-carbon or carbon neutral energy system, but could have a significant impact on the price and performance of fuel cells. These materials are primarily designed to lower the operating temperature of fuel cells. Hydrogen fuel cells are notorious for their high operating temperatures, which often exceed 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. These temperatures present significant engineering challenges that make it more difficult for fuel cells to be used outside the world of industry.
By lowering the operating temperatures, they can be made to work more efficiently and quickly. The quicker the energy systems can reach an optimum temperature, the sooner they can begin producing electricity. Researchers believe that these materials can be used for this purpose and, if successful, could expedite the commercialization of hydrogen fuel around the world.
Fuel cell manufacturers have been looking for ways to break away from expensive materials for several years now. Some have turned to new technologies while others have chosen to focus on new types of fuel cells. Researchers believe that by looking into new materials fuel cell manufacturers can find the missing link in affordable fuel cell construction. The Universities of Warwick and Birmingham will continue to experiment with the new materials to determine their effectiveness.