New catalyst of platinum nanoparticles could lead to conk-out free, stable fuel cells

August 2, 2010 By Lauren Gold
Fuel cells work by electrochemically decomposing fuel instead of burning it, converting energy directly into electricity.

In the quest for efficient, cost-effective and commercially viable fuel cells, scientists at Cornell University's Energy Materials Center have discovered a catalyst and catalyst-support combination that could make fuel cells more stable, conk-out free, inexpensive and more resistant to carbon monoxide poisoning.

The research, "Highly Stable and CO-Tolerant Pt/Ti0.7W0.3O2 Electrocatalyst for Proton-Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells," (, July 12, 2010) led by Hector D. Abruna, Cornell professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and director of the Energy Materials Center at Cornell (emc2); Francis J. DiSalvo, Cornell professor Chemistry and Chemical Biology; Deli Wang, post doctoral researcher; Chinmayee V. Subban, graduate student; Hongsen Wang, research associate; and Eric Rus, graduate student.

offer an appealing alternative to gasoline-burning cars: They have the potential to power vehicles for long distances using hydrogen as fuel, mitigate carbon dioxide production and emit only water vapor.

However, fuel cells generally require very pure hydrogen to work. That means that conventional fuels must be stripped of - a process that is too expensive to make fuel cells commercially viable.

Fuel cells work by electrochemically decomposing fuel instead of burning it, converting energy directly into electricity.

The problem is that platinum and platinum/ruthenium alloys, which are often used as catalysts in PEM (proton exchange membrane) fuel cells, are expensive and easily rendered ineffective by exposure to even low levels of carbon monoxide.

To create a catalyst system that can tolerate more carbon monoxide, Abruna, DiSalvo and colleagues deposited platinum nanoparticles on a support material of titanium oxide with added tungsten to increase its .

Their research shows that the new material works with fuel that contains as much as 2 percent carbon monoxide - a level that is about 2000 times that which typically poisons pure platinum. Also, the material is more stable and less expensive than pure platinum. With the new catalyst, said Abruña, "you can use much less-clean hydrogen, and that's more cost-effective because hydrogen derived from petroleum has a very high content of carbon monoxide. You need to scrub off the carbon monoxide and it's very expensive to do that."

The researchers are now preparing to put the catalyst to the test in real fuel cells. "So far, indications are very good," Abruña said.
In preliminary experiments comparing the new material's performance with pure platinum, he added, the cell was readily poisoned by carbon monoxide and conked out early. Said Abruña: "But ours was still running like a champ."

Explore further: New catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells resists CO contamination

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1.4 / 5 (7) Aug 02, 2010
This is the kind of research that should be at the top of the list for fast-track funding and commercial development. A Manhattan Project-style push and we could be completely free of dependence on oil in less than 10 years, IMHO.

Reality, though, is likely to be not so rosy, as too many special interests would not be served by such advancement.
3.3 / 5 (4) Aug 02, 2010
We will never be fully free of oil dependence since the entire plastics industry is built on oil, and machines still need lubrication. We could go down quite a bit with H2 though. They mention this new catalyst could handle 2% CO2, does anyone know the level of CO2 in normal H2 production?
Of course I hope everyone realizes H2 is only a battery, not a source. It still takes energy to make and that will come mostly from, guess what, oil. For now anyway.
4.5 / 5 (2) Aug 02, 2010
emc2 - I got a kick out of that name.

I wonder why the platinum in automotive gas engine catalytic converters, continuiously subjected to carbon monoxide (minus the tetra-ethyl lead), doesn't fail - when it fails in this process.

I agree that this research should be given some priority, but there are many other issues involved with using hydrogen as a fuel source that need to be addressed. There is no technology that could have us off of our dependence on oil within 10 years. Even if we did have another energy source, the infrastructure changes alone will take generations.
1 / 5 (1) Aug 02, 2010
Sonhouse, "2% CO", not CO2.

I have never read any story about why there should be carbon monoxide rather than dioxide in crude oil though.
1 / 5 (1) Aug 02, 2010
Another critical question - besides how much co is in petroleum-derived hydrogen - is: what would be the platinum cost for this type of car vs current technology?
4 / 5 (2) Aug 02, 2010
A third critical question: why would we want to make hydrogen out of petroleum?

It seems pointless, seeing how much energy the conversion process and infrastructure takes. It's just moving the emissions to a taller smokestack, and generating more of it.
1 / 5 (5) Aug 02, 2010
Of course, fuel cells have their justification in many special applications, but not in powering of automobiles - especially at the moment, when we are forced to produce hydrogen from crude oil and gas. It's much more effective to burn them directly in gas engines, where we can use different sources of fuel, for example the bio-oil. Whereas fuel cells are particularly sensitive to impurities of fuel, not saying about their price.
5 / 5 (1) Aug 02, 2010
Talking about the efficiency of burning the oil directly vs. creating hydrogen or electricity with it is a waste of time. This is just a red herring, we need to create electricity from renewable sources and then use that to produce hydrogen ( if you want, personally I'm happy using the electricity in battery form and not losing any in the transfer due to inefficiency). Remember, hydrogen is not an energy source, it's an energy carrier. Electric cars are awesome. Hydrogen cars are awesome. But the REAL issue is generating power from renewable sources, not oil. Hydrogen just hides the issue of where the electricity to make hydrogen comes from, we must address the real issue.
not rated yet Aug 03, 2010
hydrogen is an energy carrier yes thats why we will use the 60% efficiency solar panels and convert the sunlight into hydrogen fuel cells for our car and house
5 / 5 (1) Aug 03, 2010
The carbon monoxide comes from the fuel which is probably some type of syngas, http://en.wikiped...i/Syngas , which is made by heating hydrocarbons with water.
1 / 5 (1) Aug 03, 2010
hydrogen is an energy carrier yes thats why we will use the 60% efficiency solar panels and convert the sunlight into hydrogen fuel cells for our car and house

Is that any more efficient than using normal batteries?
5 / 5 (1) Aug 04, 2010
hydrogen is an energy carrier yes thats why we will use the 60% efficiency solar panels and convert the sunlight into hydrogen fuel cells for our car and house

Is that any more efficient than using normal batteries?

no. We need much more efficient batteries, and just transport electrons around instead of H2. Its hard to imagine that the conversion of electrical energy to H2, then using H2 back to electricity in a car with fuel cells, would be better than just storing the electricity directly in a high capacity battery.
not rated yet Aug 12, 2010
we are making plastics now without fossil fuels
1 / 5 (1) Aug 12, 2010
This is already an article on physorg:

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