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Platinum on the Chopping Block in Fuel Cells

In two separate stories today, platinum is either being drastically reduced or eliminated altogether in hydrogen fuel cells.

In the first case, the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) has reduced the amount of platinum used in a fuel cell by five times in a recent experiment.

According to PSI, “An international team of researchers involving the PSI has now made considerable progress in this direction. Using a three-dimensional aerogel made of a platinum palladium alloy, they were able to increase the catalytic activity for oxygen reduction at the positive electrode of a hydrogen fuel cell fivefold compared to normal catalysts made of platinum on carbon supports. This means that the same amount of oxygen can now be converted with only a fifth of the amount of precious metals. If this reduction of the necessary platinum load could be transferred onto an industrial scale, it would slash the production costs for these fuel cells. The aerogel, which is a kind of nanostructured foam, has also passed long-term tests in the lab, where the typical operating conditions in a vehicle were simulated.”

And in other news, a German-US collaboration is trying to eliminate platinum altogether inside of fuel cells.

According to the press release, “Professor Yan of UD studies thin ion-conducting polymer films called hydroxide exchange membranes (HEMs). These membranes complete the electrochemical circuit within a fuel cell, allowing hydrogen and atmospheric oxygen to be converted directly to water and energy. The most attractive feature of HEM fuel cells is that they are compatible with commonly available catalysts like silver and nickel, so that mass production would not tax the world’s limited (and costly) reserves of precious metals such as platinum. Yan’s technology was recognized by the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) as one of only 37 funded projects in ARPA-E’s first open call for projects in 2009. His team boasts of HEM fuel cell performance that is among the best in the field, with power densities over 600 mW/cm².”

So, there you have it. Two more researchers are trying to reduce or eliminate the dependency of fuel cells upon platinum and thus drive down costs to consumers.


About Hydro Kevin Kantola

Hydro Kevin Kantola
I'm a hydrogen car blogger, editor and publisher interested in documenting the history and the progression of hydrogen cars, vehicles and infrastructure worldwide.

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