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Fuel cells gearing up to power auto industry
Date:10/30/2007

HOUSTON, October 29, 2007 The average price for all types of gasoline is holding steady around $2.95 per gallon nationwide, but the pain at the pump might be short-lived as research from the University of Houston may eliminate one of the biggest hurdles to the wide-scale production of fuel cell-powered vehicles.

Peter Strasser, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, led the research team in discovering a method to make a fuel cell more efficient and less expensive. The initiative is one of four ongoing fuel cell projects in development at the Cullen College of Engineering at UH.

A fuel cell converts chemically stored energy directly into electricity and is already two to three times more efficient in converting fuel to power than the internal combustion engine usually found in automobiles.

A fuel cell is a power generation device that converts energy into electricity with very high efficiencies without combustion, flame, noise or vibration, Strasser said. If a fuel cell is run on hydrogen and air, as planned for automotive fuel cells, hydrogen and oxygen molecules combine to provide electricity with water as the only byproduct.

The key to making a fuel cell work is a catalyst, which facilitates the reaction of hydrogen and oxygen. The most common, but expensive, catalyst is platinum. Currently, the amount of platinum catalyst required per kilowatt to power a fuel cell engine is about 0.5 to 0.8 grams, or .018 to .028 ounces. At a cost of about $1,500 per ounce, the platinum catalyst alone would cost between $2,300 to $3,700 to operate a small, 100-kilowatt two- or four-door vehicle a significant cost given that an entire 100-kilowatt gasoline combustion engine costs about $3,000. To make the transition to fuel cell-powered vehicles possible, the automobile industry wants something better and cheaper.

The automobile companies have been asking for a platinum-based catalyst that is four times more efficient, and, t
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Contact: Ann Holdsworth
aholdsworth@uh.edu
713-743-8153
University of Houston
Source:Eurekalert

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