We all know that platinum is expensive. When I just checked the spot prices for today both platinum and gold are just under $1,700 per ounce. Now, even though platinum is expensive we still use it in our modern cars inside of the catalytic converters to fight pollution.
With a battery electric car or fuel cell vehicle there is no catalytic converter so expensive platinum is saved in this regard. However in FCV’s most fuel cells today use expensive platinum which drives up the cost.
So, in steps the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) research group which has discovered how to create an ultra-thin layer of platinum atoms that can cut down the costs significantly in fuel cells.
According to NIST, “The NIST team has found that increasing the voltage, the driving force of the reaction, far higher than normal to the point where the water molecules start to break down and hydrogen ions form, leads to an unexpected and useful result. The hydrogen quickly forms a layer covering the freshly deposited platinum islands and completely quenches further metal deposition.
“Using a battery of analytic techniques, including a quartz crystal microbalance, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and scanning tunneling microscopy, the group found that the formation of the hydrogen layer was rapid enough to restrict deposition to the formation of a single layer of platinum atoms. The team further discovered that by pulsing the applied voltage, they could selectively remove the hydrogen layer to enable the platinum deposition process to be repeated to form another layer.
“The deposition process occurs in a single plating bath and is surprisingly fast—1,000 times faster than making comparable films using molecular beam epitaxy, for example. It’s also faster, simpler and less prone to contamination than other electrochemical techniques for depositing platinum films, making it much less expensive.”
So, there you have it, a technique for depositing a single layer of platinum atoms in fuel cells, drastically driving down costs. Of course, eventually, platinum-free fuel cells will be even less expensive when perfected. Until then, however, fuel cells that use minimal expensive metals may help the market to grow for some time to come.