Making fuel cells for a fraction of the cost

  • Fuel cells have the potential to be a clean and efficient way to run cars, computers, and power stations, but the cost of producing them is limiting their use.
  • That’s because a key component of the most common fuel cells is a catalyst made from the precious metal platinum.
  • Researchers have developed an inexpensive, efficient catalyst material for a type of fuel cell called a polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell (PEMFC), which turns the chemical energy of hydrogen into electricity and is among the most promising fuel cell types to power cars and electronics.
  • The catalyst developed is made of porous carbon nanofibers embedded with a compound made from a relatively abundant metal such as cobalt, which is more than 100 times less expensive than platinum.
  • Fuel cells, which are already being used by some carmakers, offer advantages over conventional combustion technologies, including higher efficiency, quieter operation and lower emissions. Hydrogen fuel cells emit only water.
  • Like batteries, fuel cells are electrochemical devices that comprise a positive and negative electrode sandwiching an electrolyte.
  • When a hydrogen fuel is injected onto the anode, a catalyst separates the hydrogen molecules into positively charged particles called protons and negatively charged particles called electrons.
  • The electrons are directed through an external circuit, where they do useful work, such as powering an electric motor, before rejoining the positively charged hydrogen ions and oxygen to form water.

 

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