Researchers fuel the next generation of hybrid cars

July 31, 2008

Monash University scientists have revolutionised the design of fuel cells used in the latest generation of hybrid cars which could make the vehicles more reliable and cheaper to build.

The breakthrough, published today in the journal Science, revolves around the design of a fuel cell in which a specially-coated form of popular hi tech outdoor and sporting clothing material Goretex® is the key component.

The team of Monash scientists have designed and tested an air-electrode, where a fine layer - just 0.4 of a micron thick, or about 100 times thinner than a human hair – of highly conductive plastic is deposited on the breathable fabric. The conductive plastic acts as both the fuel cell electrode and catalyst.

Monash University's Dr Bjorn Winther-Jensen said just as Goretex® had revolutionised the outdoor clothing industry, it could hold similar promise for motorists.

"The same way as waste vapour is drawn out of this material to make hikers more comfortable to less prone to hypothermia, so it is able to 'breathe' oxygen into our fuel cell and into contact with the conductive plastic," Dr Winter-Jensen said.

Monash University's Professor Doug MacFarlane from the Australian Centre for Electromaterials Science (ACES) said the discovery was probably the most important development in fuel cell technology in the last 20 years.

"The benefits for the motoring industry and for motorists are that the new design removes the need for platinum, which acts as the catalyst and is currently central to the manufacturing process," Professor MacFarlane said.

"Our reliance on platinum is making the likelihood of using fuel cells in everyday passenger cars, increasingly improbable.

"The cost of the platinum component alone of current fuel cells for a small car with a 100kW electric engine is more than the total cost of an 100kW gasoline engine. Also current annual world production of platinum is only sufficient for about 3 million 100kW vehicles, less than one-twentieth of the current annual global production of vehicles."

The new design fuel cell has been tested for periods of up to 1500 hours continuously using hydrogen as the fuel source.

Professor Maria Forsyth, Director of ACES at Monash said testing has shown no sign of material degradation or deterioration in performance. The tests also confirmed that oxygen conversion rates are comparable with platinum–catalysed electrodes of the same geometry and found electrodes are not poisoned by carbon monoxide the way platinum is.

"The small amounts of carbon monoxide that are always present in exhausts from petrol engines are a real problem for fuel cells because the platinum catalyst is slowly poisoned, eventually destroying the cell, "Professor Forsyth said.

"The important point to stress is that the team has come up with an alternative fuel cell design that is more economical, more easily sourced, outlasts platinum cells and is just as effective."

Source: Monash University

Explore further: Non-metal catalyst splits hydrogen molecule

Related Stories

Non-metal catalyst splits hydrogen molecule

October 21, 2016

Hydrogen (H2) is an extremely simple molecule and yet a valuable raw material which as a result of the development of sophisticated catalysts is becoming more and more important. In industry and commerce, applications range ...

Catalyst structure identified in an operating PEM fuel cell

October 7, 2016

Research at the group of Dr Moniek Tromp of the University of Amsterdam's research priority area Sustainable Chemistry has revealed the structure of the palladium catalyst for hydrogen oxidation in proton exchange membrane ...

Toward cost-effective polymer electrolyte fuel cells

September 2, 2016

As we enter the age of hybrid, electric and self-driving cars, interest remains high in finding the next generation of fuel cell technology that is low cost, long lasting and mass producible. In recent years, fuel cell research ...

Recommended for you

Microsoft aims at Apple with high-end PCs, 3D software

October 26, 2016

Microsoft launched a new consumer offensive Wednesday, unveiling a high-end computer that challenges the Apple iMac along with an updated Windows operating system that showcases three-dimensional content and "mixed reality."

Making it easier to collaborate on code

October 26, 2016

Git is an open-source system with a polarizing reputation among programmers. It's a powerful tool to help developers track changes to code, but many view it as prohibitively difficult to use.

Dutch unveil giant vacuum to clean outside air

October 25, 2016

Dutch inventors Tuesday unveiled what they called the world's first giant outside air vacuum cleaner—a large purifying system intended to filter out toxic tiny particles from the atmosphere surrounding the machine.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (5) Jul 31, 2008
Fuel cells cannot store energy from regenerative braking, batteries will also be necessary for energy efficient hybrid cars.
4.5 / 5 (4) Jul 31, 2008
See also: Researchers analyze material with 'colossal ionic conductivity'
Perhaps a marriage can be arranged?
Roy Stewart,
Phoenix AZ
4.3 / 5 (3) Aug 01, 2008
Good news. And btw neil supercaps could easily be used to absorb and store that energy.
4 / 5 (3) Aug 01, 2008
Could this be the replacement for platinum in Dr. Nocera's electrolysis device?


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.