RICHLAND, Wash. -- A new combination of nanoparticles and graphene results in a more durable catalytic material for fuel cells, according to work published today online at the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The catalytic material is not only hardier but more chemically active as well. The researchers are confident the results will help improve fuel cell design.
"Fuel cells are an important area of energy technology, but cost and durability are big challenges," said chemist Jun Liu. "The unique structure of this material provides much needed stability, good electrical conductivity and other desired properties."
Liu and his colleagues at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., and Washington State University in Pullman, Wash., combined graphene, a one-atom-thick honeycomb of carbon with handy electrical and structural properties, with metal oxide nanoparticles to stabilize a fuel cell catalyst and make it better available to do its job.
"This material has great potential to make fuel cells cheaper and last longer," said catalytic chemist Yong Wang, who has a joint appointment with PNNL and WSU. "The work may also provide lessons for improving the performance of other carbon-based catalysts for a broad range of industrial applications."
Muscle Metal Oxide
Fuel cells work by chemically breaking down oxygen and hydrogen gases to create an electrical current, producing water and heat in the process. The centerpiece of the fuel cell is the chemical catalyst -- usually a metal such as platinum -- sitting on a support that is often made of carbon. A good supporting material spreads the platinum evenly over its surface to maximize the surface area with which it can attack gas molecules. It is also electrically conductive.
Fuel cell developers most commonly use black carbon -- think pencil lead -- but platinum atoms tend to clump on
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DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory