In the past I’ve talked about the need to both reduce and eliminate the need for platinum in fuel cells in order for hydrogen cars and vehicles to become economically viable. It makes no sense to pour a million or so hydrogen cars on the road only to be hit with a worldwide shortage of platinum.
So, for the past several years, one of the major barriers to introducing hydrogen cars in the marketplace has been reducing the price of the fuel cells and their most expensive component, platinum. To this extent, researchers at the University of Dayton, Ohio have discovered that bundled carbon nanotubes doped with nitrogen can be used to replace platinum in fuel cells.
Before this research, carbon nanotubes were being used with only minor success and the catalytic reaction was thought to be because of the trace amounts of iron from the manufacturing process. But, Dr. Liming Dai, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Dayton, was able to show that iron had a detrimental effect on the process and nitrogen was much more robust in aiding the catalytic reaction.
Dr. Dai also believes that other, cheaper forms of nitrogen doped carbon will also be able to be used. As the research for the perfect platinum-free fuel cell is ongoing it is important to remember where we have come in just a few short years, (where the size of many fuel cells were double what they are today), and what a few short years of future development will bring.