Is iron the new platinum? Two new research studies seem to think so. Now, I’ve talked about iron many times over the years as one of the platinum-free elements in fuel cells and during electrolysis to produce hydrogen.
Two different research teams from the Canada and the U. S. have conducted independent research on low cost iron-centered fuel cells and hydrogen production methods.
Two researchers from the University of Calgary, Curtis Berlinguette and Simon Trudel, have published a paper outlining their findings.
According to MIT Technology Review, “They have patented their production method and have formed a company called FireWater Fuel which plans to have a product available as early as next year. The goal is to make an electrolyzer—a device that splits water to make hydrogen and oxygen fuels—that is affordable enough for businesses and consumers.
Their invention is making catalysts from a combination of metals compounds that use iron, cobalt, and nickel. The process, which treats metal compounds or oxides with light, doesn’t require high temperatures.”
But, wait. There’s more. Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have created an iron-based catalyst in a fuel cell that splits hydrogen in order to create electricity.
According to PNNL, “Bullock and his PNNL colleagues, chemists Tianbiao ‘Leo’ Liu and Dan DuBois, have taken inspiration for their iron-wielding catalyst from a hydrogenase. First Liu created several potential molecules for the team to test. Then, with the best-working molecule up to that point, they determined and tweaked the shape and the internal electronic forces to make additional improvements … It is the first iron-based catalyst that converts hydrogen directly to electricity. The result moves chemists and engineers one step closer to widely affordable fuel cells.”
In order for hydrogen cars to take off in the marketplace, we need cheaper fuel cells and cheap methods to produce hydrogen for those fuel cells. The scientists and engineers in Calgary and at PNNL are using iron to solve both problems.