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Platinum Nanoparticles Make Fuel Cells Better

Taking a different approach to an existing solution, researchers from the Energy Materials Center at Cornell University could make proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuels cells a more affordable, cost-effective and stable alternative source of energy.

You probably know about the most advertised feature of the technology. In PEM fuel cells, the anode and cathode are separated by a membrane. A catalyst oxidizes hydrogen at the anode part; the membrane then allows the protons to pass through while the electrons are used to create a current. At the cathode the electrons reunite with the protons and oxygen from the air, forming water. No contributions to climate change or air pollution as a by-product.

PEM fuel cells are touted as good for transportation because of their compact size and better environmental durability compared to other competing setups. However, they require very pure hydrogen and a special catalyst to work. Even low levels of carbon monoxide (CO) contamination will "poison" the catalyst and render the fuel cell inert—a definite no-no if your catalyst requires expensive materials like platinum.

To create a better catalyst, researchers tried depositing platinum nanoparticles on a support material made of titanium oxide, and added tungsten to increase electrical conductivity. Tests show that the new catalyst can work with fuel containing as much as two percent CO with only a five percent loss of efficiency, compared to a 30 percent drop for conventional platinum catalysts.

Héctor Abruña, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Cornell University, says that with the new catalyst, one "can now use much less-clean hydrogen, and that’s more cost-effective because petroleum has a very high content of carbon monoxide". Otherwise, "you need to scrape off the carbon monoxide, and that's very expensive to do that", he adds. They are now preparing to ramp up their tests by using the catalyst on real fuel cells. Abruña is optimistic: preliminary experiments show that while a platinum cell was poisoned and gave out early, the new cell "was still running like a champ".

via Futurity.org

  • sseyler
    I go to Cornell University... I guess if they don't get me in those pesky Cornell Daily Sun E-mails, Tom's Hardware will make sure I don't miss it.
    Reply
  • thechief73
    I have to say when I read platinum I was wondering how this will reduce costs, but not knowing much about fuel cells and the explanation givin it really seems like they are onto somthing.
    Reply
  • Dkz
    Now.. the thing is, WHEN this tech is gonna get off the labs?
    The ozone layer ain't gonna wait forever to be destroyed by petrol-based fuels..
    Gogo alternative non-polluting fuels!
    Reply
  • saturnus
    No contributions to climate change or air pollution as a by-product.

    Well, that's a matter of definition really. Though strictly speaking water vapour isn't air pollution, it is however contribution significantly to global climate change.

    Water vapour is a much more potent greenhouse gas than methane which in turn is a much more greenhouse gas than CO2, all contributing to global warming. But at the same time water vapour in the high athmossphere is also contributing to global cooling hence the more acurate term of global climate change.

    It's not easy being a tree hugger :)
    Reply
  • Alsone
    What happens about high levels of CO in the atmosphere though?

    Presumably this car is going to be driven on raods shared with other vehicles putting out high levels of CO. How are they going to prevent the cells from being contaminated by the general air pollution found on the roads?

    Even if the cell can be sealed away from it, whats to say that CO won't become disolved into the Hydrogen in the fuel tank as this can't be sealed to allow filling up.
    Reply
  • saturnus
    AlsoneWhat happens about high levels of CO in the atmosphere though?
    In principle nothing as a careful read of the article reveals that the new cells can withstand "2 percent" CO levels, pressumably that translates to 20000 ppm (parts per million) which is 50 times higher than the level instantly lethal to humans at 400 ppm.
    Reply
  • lolsir
    Blah blah blah, not going to believe it until i see it :)
    Reply
  • neilnh
    DkzNow.. the thing is, WHEN this tech is gonna get off the labs?The ozone layer ain't gonna wait forever to be destroyed by petrol-based fuels.. Gogo alternative non-polluting fuels!
    Ozone depletion has nothing to do with petrol-based fuels. The ozone layer keeps OUT ultraviolet rays and is destroyed by CFC's from aerosols. Burning fossil fuels releases gas that keeps more heat in the atmosphere (greenhouse effect).

    As far as getting out of the labs... As soon as it's cost effective.
    Reply