Scientists develop cheaper, more efficient fuel cells

May 23, 2013
Scientists develop cheaper, more efficient fuel cells

(Phys.org) —Using the Canadian Light Source (CLS) synchrotron, researchers have discovered a way to create cheaper fuel cells by dividing normally expensive platinum metal into nanoparticles (or even single atoms) for use in everything from automobiles to computers.

The research findings, led by Western University's Xueliang (Andy) Sun and Tsun-Kong (T.K.) Sham, were published recently by Scientific Reports, Nature's online, open access, multidisciplinary publication: "Single-atom Catalysis Using Pt/Graphene Achieved through ."

After collaborating with researchers from McMaster University, the CLS synchrotron, and Ballard Power Systems Inc., Sun and Sham developed a method of utilizing atomic layer deposition (ALD). This surface science technique is used for depositing , to create single atom catalysts. This is a major boon for the three-headed battle against global energy demands, depletion of fossil fuel reserves, and environmental pollution problems.

"Platinum, which is very expensive, is often used as a catalyst but only the are doing the work," says Sun, Canada Research Chair in for and Storage. "The rest of the atoms, below the surface, have no function as a catalyst so you are basically paying for 100 per cent of the platinum but only using 10 to 20 per cent."

"By dispersing the platinum, each and every one of the atoms increases efficiency," says Sham, Canada Research Chair in Materials and Synchrotron Radiation. "Dispersing platinum also provides much more bang for our buck, which makes government, industry and consumers very happy."

Sham says synchrotron radiation and an ultra-high resolution play a big role in tracking the chemical properties of platinum and its performance, explaining that the technique basically divides platinum into as "small as possible" parts, so the surface area can be maximized.

Scientists were able to find these results using the Hard X-ray MicroAnalysis (HXMA) beamline at the CLS – one of the best facilities in the world for fuel cell research, says CLS Director of Industrial Science, Jeff Cutler.

"Making advancements in fuel cell technology is an extremely important mandate for scientists," says Cutler. "The CLS synchrotron is one of the best facilities in the world to conduct this type of nanomaterial research and Ballard Power Systems is one of the top fuel cell technology companies. By working with this industry partner we hope to provide them with insight that will be important for the production of the next generation of fuel cells."

Siyu Ye, Principal Research Scientist with Ballard Power Systems, thinks the collaboration was the key to getting successful results.

"Ballard Power Systems Inc. is a global leader in fuel cell technology and by working with researchers at the Canadian Light Source, Western University and McMaster University, we were able to make a great progress towards producing cheaper and more efficient catalysts," says Ye. "Platinum is a precious material but a great catalyst. By using less of this material in a more efficient way, fuel cells can be made more cost effective, and thus support wide-spread commercialization."

Explore further: Thinnest feasible nano-membrane produced

More information: www.nature.com/srep/2013/130503/srep01775/full/srep01775.html

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User comments : 11

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Shootist
1.8 / 5 (9) May 23, 2013
Scientists develop cheaper, more efficient fuel cells


Just not cheap or efficient enough.

Faster please.
SolidRecovery
2.1 / 5 (15) May 23, 2013
Doesn't seem like they increased the efficiency of the catalyst, only changed the amount of the catalyst used. The surface area stayed the same but the catalyst layer is thinner which resulted in cost saving. Yes it is cheaper, but the cell is not more efficient. It is only efficient use of platinum.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (12) May 23, 2013
Doesn't seem like they increased the efficiency of the catalyst, only changed the amount of the catalyst used. The surface area stayed the same but the catalyst layer is thinner which resulted in cost saving. Yes it is cheaper, but the cell is not more efficient. It is only efficient use of platinum.
So you disagree with the article which says

"...dividing normally expensive platinum metal into nanoparticles...By dispersing the platinum, each and every one of the atoms increases efficiency,"

-and if so, why? Is it perhaps because you didnt read it?
SolidRecovery
1.9 / 5 (14) May 23, 2013
Doesn't seem like they increased the efficiency of the catalyst, only changed the amount of the catalyst used. The surface area stayed the same but the catalyst layer is thinner which resulted in cost saving. Yes it is cheaper, but the cell is not more efficient. It is only efficient use of platinum.
So you disagree with the article which says

"...dividing normally expensive platinum metal into nanoparticles...By dispersing the platinum, each and every one of the atoms increases efficiency,"

-and if so, why? Is it perhaps because you didnt read it?

Perhaps you didn't read my comment. The efficiency of platinum DID NOT increase. The cell is not more efficient by any NEW means other than in cost. Each and every atom on the surface still does the same amount of catalysis as stated in the article if you bothered to read. The inner atoms never catalyze. Making the platinum layer thinner only decreases the costs.
SolidRecovery
1.9 / 5 (14) May 23, 2013
To continue:
By the same means you can use more platinum with the same surface area per gram and say you increase efficiency. They did not make the fuel cell more efficient, only more cost effective.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.1 / 5 (11) May 23, 2013
Perhaps you didn't read my comment
Perhaps you didnt read your comment. You said
Doesn't seem like they increased the efficiency of the catalyst, only changed the amount of the catalyst used.
-But the article says that the platinum itself was indeed made more efficient by turning layers of it into nanoparticles. The amount used would be irrelevant.

Try reading it again.
wealthychef
1 / 5 (4) May 23, 2013
You guys are quibbling over details. The researchers are using platinum more efficiently because they now get more catalysis using less platinum. The platinum does not catalyze more efficiently per atom, but does per gram. You both have a point, now shut up. :-) I'm still waiting for any of this stuff to actually start to replace coal.
EyeNStein
1.7 / 5 (12) May 24, 2013
Strangely enough I could deposit atomic layers "utilizing atomic layer deposition " too.
This article has no new information content whatever.
You could just as well generate banana custard using a "banana custard generator"
EyeNStein
1.4 / 5 (9) May 24, 2013
What they are doing is laudable enough. Just not helped by a non-information announcement.
Car catalytic converter manufacturers will each have their own "atomic layer deposition" systems, to save on their cash since 1975.
fmfbrestel
3.7 / 5 (6) May 24, 2013
This article is a dumbed down press release, if you want the details go to the nature.com link. This new method does indeed drastically increase the raw efficiency of the catalyst, not just the efficiency per amount of platinum.

Ghost is correct, Solid is wrong.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.5 / 5 (8) May 24, 2013
You guys are quibbling over details. The researchers are using platinum more efficiently because they now get more catalysis using less platinum. The platinum does not catalyze more efficiently per atom, but does per gram
You didnt even read the first freeking paragraph

"dividing normally expensive platinum metal into nanoparticles (or even single atoms)"
"By dispersing the platinum, each and every one of the atoms increases efficiency,"

Now show me where in the article it says anything about quantity.

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