I’ve talked before about how we need to reduce the amount of platinum used in fuel cells in order to bring down the price and make them more cost effective. I’ve also talked about researchers working on platinum-free fuel cells, especially if they can retain the power and longevity of fuel cells using platinum.
Well, now Japanese researchers have found a way to reduce the platinum used in fuel cells by going sub-nano. The tiny platinum catalyst clusters contain just 12 atoms each, with each atom’s surface exposed for the catalytic reaction.
Against convention wisdom, the scientists decreased the size of the platinum clusters (typically platinum nanoparticles are made up of hundreds or thousands of atoms). What the scientists found was that their 12-atom sub-nano platinum clusters produced 13 times the catalytic current of the larger clusters.
Using less platinum but more surface area is only part of the equation. Apparently, the use of platinum (IV) chloride to dendritic phenylazomethine (DPA) to create sub-nano cages (plus the structure) played another significant roll in the increase catalytic activity.
Using less platinum in fuel cells will not only drive down the costs significantly but also drive down the perceived shortage of platinum in the future. Just like automotive catalytic convertors, which also contain platinum, have been developed to use less of this expensive metal over time, the same pathway is already taking place in fuel cells.
For fuel cells in the future to be cost competitive in the world marketplace they need to use less platinum or be platinum free and still provide durability, reliability and longevity.