Researchers develop superior fuel cell material

Aug 24, 2012
An illustration of the new IBN nanocomposite material which is composed of gold-copper alloy atoms in the core and platinum atoms at the outer layer.

Using a mixture of gold, copper and platinum nanoparticles, IBN researchers have developed a more powerful and longer lasting fuel cell material. This breakthrough was published recently in leading journal, Energy and Environmental Science.

Fuel cells are a promising technology for use as a source of electricity to power electronic devices, vehicles, military aircraft and equipment. A converts the from hydrogen (fuel) into electricity through a chemical reaction with oxygen.  A fuel cell can produce electricity continuously as long as there is a fuel supply.

Current commercially available fuel cells use platinum nanoparticles as the catalyst to speed up the chemical reaction because platinum is the only metal that can resist the highly inside such a cell. However, the widespread use of fuel cells has been impeded by the high cost of platinum and its low stability.

To overcome this limitation, a team of researchers led by IBN Executive Director Professor Jackie Y. Ying has discovered that by replacing the central part of the catalyst with gold and and leaving just the outer layer in platinum, the new hybrid material can provide five times higher activity and much greater stability than the commercial . With further optimization, it would be possible to further increase the material's .

IBN's new nanocomposite material can produce at least 0.571 amperes of electric current per milligram of platinum, compared to 0.109 per milligram of platinum for commercial platinum catalysts. This is also the first time that a catalyst has been shown to enhance both the stability and activity for the fuel cell reaction with a significantly reduced platinum content.

To make this catalyst more active than the commercial platinum catalyst, the researchers have designed the core of the nanocrsytalline material to be a gold-copper alloy, which has slightly smaller lattice spacing than the platinum coating on the nanocrystal's surface. This creates a compressive strain on the surface platinum atoms, making the platinum more active in the rate-limiting step of oxygen reduction reaction for the fuel cell. Replacing the core of the nanoparticle with the less expensive gold-copper alloy cuts down the usage of platinum, a highly expensive noble metal.

Professor Ying said, "A key research focus at IBN is to develop green energy technologies that can lead to greater efficiency and environmental sustainability. More active and less costly than conventional platinum catalysts, our new system has enabled us to significantly advance fuel cell development and make the technology more practical for industrial applications."

Explore further: Deconstruction of avant-garde cuisine could lead to even more fanciful dishes

More information: J. Yang, X. Chen, X. Yang and J. Y. Ying, "Stabilization and Compressive Strain Effect of AuCu Core on Pt Shell for Oxygen Reduction Reaction," Energy and Environmental Science, (2012) DOI:10.1039/C2EE22172A.

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Shootist
2 / 5 (4) Aug 24, 2012
Superior fuel cell material has been developed, hundreds of times, over dozens of years, yet the technology remains more unrealized than fission.

Pity. I really would like to have a 400kw/hr FC powered automobile and a 20kw/hr FC powered house.
CapitalismPrevails
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 24, 2012
replacing the central part of the catalyst with gold and copper alloy and leaving just the outer layer in platinum


That still doesn't seem commercially viable to me. Gold is $1669 per ounce and platinum is $1539 per ounce.
Sanescience
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 24, 2012
Depends on how much of the materials are needed, catalysts can use very expensive materials but in such tiny amounts that their contribution to its cost is pretty small.

This is a separate issue for Hydrogen fuel storage which generally speaking has a weight to fuel stored ratio that is very inefficient and is one of several reasons Hydrogen wont be able to compete with renewable green sources of hydrocarbons.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (1) Aug 24, 2012
That still doesn't seem commercially viable to me. Gold is $1669 per ounce and platinum is $1539 per ounce.

But with the reported method you only need a fifth of that.
(and Gold is unnaturally high at the moment just because people have this idea that gold is 'safe' in economically troubled times - there's bound to be a crash of that sooner or later)
CapitalismPrevails
1 / 5 (2) Aug 24, 2012

(and Gold is unnaturally high at the moment just because people have this idea that gold is 'safe' in economically troubled times - there's bound to be a crash of that sooner or later)


LOL antialias, please don't get started. NO, there's bound to be a crash of the dollar sooner or later and not gold. A fiat currency like the dollar is not real sound money as it can be artificially diluted by the Federal Reserve. You can't print gold. When the Fed does things like QE1, QE2, and soon to be QE3, then the dollar will have less purchasing power. Sooner or later people will be fed up with their savings being eroded away and transfer their wealth to some other asset (E.G. gold). This is why every fiat currency has failed and no other currency has maintained its value so reliably through history such as gold. Your basically saying the aggregate vote for higher gold prices by every participant in the gold market is erronius. The price of gold is a public poll.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Aug 24, 2012
Well, gold has no value in and of itself (besides some limited uses in electronics and medicine). So it is as much an 'imagined currency' as paper dollars (albeit without the dilution problem).

When the economy picks up again in one country or another people will shift money out of gold (because other investments promise better ROI...gold doesn't promise any at the moment) - and then the price of gold will come down.
CapitalismPrevails
1 / 5 (1) Aug 24, 2012
True, gold isn't as practical currency for common day commerce. But if the dollar was tied to the value of gold(gold standard), then gold would be much more practical. People would be much more confident their savings wasn't under threat of inflation.

Today, the priority is preserving your savings from inflation as there is no gold standard. The Fed has a monopoly over the value of your savings in dollars.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Aug 24, 2012
There are other currencies besides the dollar and other economies besides the US. Those who look for a return on investment mostly don't care where they invest.
Shabs42
not rated yet Aug 25, 2012
replacing the central part of the catalyst with gold and copper alloy and leaving just the outer layer in platinum


That still doesn't seem commercially viable to me. Gold is $1669 per ounce and platinum is $1539 per ounce.


And copper is like 25 cents an ounce. So if the new process uses exactly 1/3 of each element, they essentially cut the cost by 33%. Not exactly insignificant.

I obviously do not know the exact percentages, and the manufacturing might be more complex, thus adding some of the cost back in.