Nanocrystals of Titanium Dioxide (TIO2) plus a solid acid CsHSO4 may one day replace platinum in fuel cells bringing down costs considerably. Now, I’ve talked about platinum in fuel cells many times in the past as one of the contributing factors to driving up costs and stalling the rollout of hydrogen vehicles.
Researchers at TU Delft University in The Netherlands have been trying different methods and materials not only to replace platinum but to improve the efficiency of fuel cells in general. Through trial and error the scientists have come across the nanocrystal combination to achieve a high performance solid electrolyte.
According to PhD student Lucas Haverkate, “In a solid matter you have a network of ions, in which virtually every position in the network is taken. This makes it difficult for the charged particles (protons) to move from one electrode to another. It’s a bit like a traffic jam on a motorway. What you need to do is to create free spaces in the network … A characteristic of these TiO2 crystals is that they attract protons, and this creates more space in the network … The addition of the crystals appears to cause an enormous leap in the conductive capacity, up to a factor of 100.”
Of course this research is leading edge science. Emerging technology such as this may take a while to commercialize. But with enough research going into the advent of the platinum-free fuel cell we are only one breakthrough away from bringing down the costs drastically of fuel cells and hydrogen cars will be the beneficiary.