Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) and U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have discovered that using a platinum-nickel alloy catalyst in PEM fuel cells offers 90 times the activity of the platinum-carbon cathode catalysts used today. The discovery will likely lead to cheaper and more powerful hydrogen fuel cells for the transporation industry.
Fuel cell cathodes using pure platinum are extremely expensive and degrade quickly since the hydrogen and oxygen atoms bond with the platinum making it useless for future chemical reactions. Because of these issues, scientists have been looking at different platinum alloys to reduce the costs and extend the lifetime of PEM fuel cells.
The platinum-nickel alloy has been researched for a while with varying results. The scientists at ANL and the Berkeley Lab, however, discovered the optimal number of molecules on the surface layer and sub-layer for the alloy on a nanoscale to coat the cathode with, which has opened up better-than-expected results.