Researchers from South Korea, Case Western Reserve University and University of North Texas have discovered an inexpensive and easily produced catalyst that performs better than platinum in oxygen-reduction reactions.
The finding, detailed in Nature's Scientific Reports online today, is a step toward eliminating what industry regards as the largest obstacle to large-scale commercialization of fuel cell technology.
Fuel cells can be more efficient than internal combustion engines, silent, and at least one type produces zero greenhouse emissions at the tail pipe. Car and bus manufacturers as well as makers of residential and small-business-sized generators have been testing and developing different forms of fuel cells for more than a decade but the high cost and insufficiencies of platinum catalysts have been the Achilles heel.
"We made metal-free catalysts using an affordable and scalable process," said Liming Dai, the Kent Hale Smith Professor of macromolecular science and engineering at Case Western Reserve and one of the report's authors. "The catalysts are more stable than platinum catalysts and tolerate carbon monoxide poisoning and methanol crossover."
And, in their initial tests, a cathode coated with one form of catalystgraphene nanoparticles edged with iodineproved more efficient in the oxygen reduction reaction, generating 33 percent more current than a commercial cathode coated with platinum generated.
The research was led by Jong-Beom Baek, director of the Interdisciplinary School of Green Energy/Low-Dimensional Carbon Materials Center at South Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology. Fellow authors include: In-Yup Jeon, Hyun-Jung Choi, Min Choi, Jeong-Min Seo, Sun-Min Jung, Min-Jung Kim and Neojung Park, from Ulsan; Sheng Zhang from Case Western Reserve; and Lipeng Zhang and Zhenhai Xia from North Texas.
Like a battery, a fuel cell converts chemical energy into electrica
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Case Western Reserve University