South Africa, which is rich in platinum deposits is late to the game in tapping into the fuel cell market. In fact, South Africa has lost a decade in trying to cash into this lucrative market and they are just now realizing this and trying to play catch up. But, it may be too late as many companies and universities are working on leading edge platinum-less fuel cells for the future.
A case in point is Case Western University in Cleveland, OH which is working on a future fuel cell made with carbon nanotubes and not expensive platinum. The carbon nanotubes are dipped in a polymer solution and equal the output of platinum-laced fuel cells. Why is this important?
Platinum is the single most expensive element in hydrogen fuel cells. If a substitute for platinum can be found then this will cut the cost of future fuel cells dramatically. A non-platinum fuel cell will bring down the price of FCVs, hydrogen electrolysis units that use fuel cells and even fuel cell batteries.
Professor Liming Dai says that this carbon nanotube based fuel cell is true breakthrough technology. According to Case Western University, “Dai and research associates Shuangyin Wang and Dingshan Yu found that by simply soaking carbon nanotubes in a water solution of the polymer polydiallyldimethylammoniumn chloride for a couple of hours, the polymer coats the nanotube surface and pulls an electron partially from the carbon, creating a net positive charge.”
As I write this, I’ve just checked the spot price of an ounce of platinum on the open market. It is $1745, which is more than an ounce of gold right now. South Africa may be late to the game, but this is our gain. Just like we don’t want to be beholden to foreign nations for our oil, we also don’t want to be beholden to foreign nations for platinum or any other expensive metals either.
The discovery by Case Western University is another step towards energy independence as we ramp up the use of alternative fuel vehicles.