Platinum-coated nanoparticles could lead to better fuel cells

Dec 09, 2010 By Anne Ju
An illustration of the synthesis procedure of the core-shell nanoparticles and subsequent deposition of platinum. Credit: Abruna lab

(PhysOrg.com) -- Fuel cells may power the cars of the future, but it's not enough to just make them work -- they have to be affordable. Cornell researchers have developed a novel way to synthesize a fuel cell electrocatalytic material without breaking the bank.

The research, published online Nov. 24 in the , describes a simple method for making that drive the electrocatalytic reactions inside room-temperature fuel cells.

Fuel cells convert chemical energy directly into electrical energy. They consist of an , which oxidizes the fuel (such as hydrogen), and a , which reduces oxygen to water. A polymer membrane separates the electrodes. Fuel cell-powered cars in production today use pure to catalyze the oxygen reduction reaction in the cathode side. While platinum is the most efficient catalyst available today for the oxygen reduction reaction, its activity is limited, and it is rare and expensive.

The Cornell researchers' nanoparticles offer an alternative to pure platinum at a fraction of the cost. They are made of a palladium and cobalt core and coated with a one-atom-thick layer of platinum. Palladium, though not as good a catalyst, has similar properties as platinum (it is in the same group on the Periodic Table of Elements; it has the same ; and it is similar in atomic size), but it costs one-third less and is 50 times more abundant on Earth.

Researchers led by Héctor D. Abruña, the E.M. Chamot Profesor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, made the nanoparticles on a carbon substrate and made the palladium-cobalt core self-assemble -- cutting down on manufacturing costs. First author Deli Wang, a postdoctoral associate in Abruña's lab, designed the experiments and synthesized the nanoparticles.

Atomic resolution images of the palladium-cobalt nanoparticle, before platinum deposition. Credit: Muller lab

David Muller, professor of applied and engineering physics and co-director of the Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science, led the efforts geared at imaging the particles down to atomic resolution to demonstrate their chemical composition and distribution, and to prove the efficacy of the catalytic conversions.

"The crystal structure of the substrate, composition and spatial distribution of the nanoparticles play important roles in determining how well the platinum performs," said Huolin Xin, a graduate student in Muller's lab.

The work was supported by the Energy Materials Center at Cornell, a Department of Energy-supported Energy Frontiers Research Center. Researchers also used equipment at the Cornell Center for Materials Research.

Explore further: Tiny carbon nanotube pores make big impact

Related Stories

Argonne to study fuel cell catalysts

May 26, 2005

Argonne National Laboratory will receive $3 million over three years for basic science studies that may lead to improved catalysts for hydrogen fuel cells.

Carbon Nanotubes Make Fuel Cells Cheaper

Feb 09, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- As fuel cells are becoming more popular due to their potential use in applications such as hydrogen-powered vehicles, auxiliary power systems, and electronic devices, the need for the precious ...

Recommended for you

Tiny carbon nanotube pores make big impact

Oct 29, 2014

A team led by the Lawrence Livermore scientists has created a new kind of ion channel based on short carbon nanotubes, which can be inserted into synthetic bilayers and live cell membranes to form tiny pores ...

An unlikely use for diamonds

Oct 27, 2014

Tiny diamonds are providing scientists with new possibilities for accurate measurements of processes inside living cells with potential to improve drug delivery and cancer therapeutics.

User comments : 0

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.