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Fuel cell catalyst production could remove big barrier to mainstream hydrogen cars


(Credit: Shutterstock)
(Credit: Shutterstock)

A new process for creating fuel cell catalysts could help remove one of the biggest barriers to widespread use of hydrogen cars.

Low-cost catalysts with high activity and stability are “critical” for the commercialisation of hydrogen fuel cells, said Qiurong Shi, co-first author of a new paper from Washington State University. 

The team claimed hydrogen cells will be a “critical” source of clean energy as they are twice as efficient as combustion engines and their only waste product is water. The high price of platinum-based catalysts has previously hindered their commercialisation, the researchers said.

Developers would like to use non-precious metals such as iron or cobalt instead of platinum, but reactions with these abundant metals tend to stop working after a short time.

Recently, researchers developed single-atom catalysts that reportedly work as well as precious metals in laboratory testing. The researchers improved the stability and activity of the non-precious metals by working with them at the nano-scale as single-atom catalysts.

In their new work, the Washington State team led by professor Yuehe Lin used iron or cobalt salts and the small molecule glucosamine as precursors, in a straightforward high temperature process to create the single-atom catalysts. The process can significantly lower the cost of the catalysts and could easily scale up for production.

The iron-carbon catalysts they developed were reportedly more stable than commercial platinum catalysts. They also maintained good activity and did not become contaminated, which is often a problem with common metals.

“This process has many advantages," said Chengzhou Zhu, a first author on the paper who developed the high temperature process. "It makes large-scale production feasible, and it allows us to increase the number and boost the reactivity of active sites on the catalyst."

The research was published in Advanced Energy Materials.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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