April 2, 2009

Iron promises cheaper fuel cells

Cram the right material into nanoscale holes in carbon and you're a step closer to practical hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles.

The process makes an iron-based catalyst that can replace platinum in the oxygen-reducing half of a polymer electrolyte fuel cell, which is the kind of fuel cell typically used in vehicles.

Platinum is expensive, but until now less expensive materials haven't been efficient enough for practical use. The iron-based catalyst is 35 times more efficient than previous iron-based catalysts and nearly as efficient as platinum.

The process involves ball milling to force a mix of materials into 2-nanometer pores in activated carbon. The filled porous carbon is then heated twice, first in argon and then in ammonia. The resulting material has a large number of individual iron ions available to catalyze the fuel cell's oxygen reaction.

The researchers are working on making the catalyst more durable. The low-cost catalyst could make hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles commercially viable.

Research paper:
Iron-Based Catalysts with Improved Oxygen Reduction Activity in Polymer Electrolyte Fuel Cells
Science, April 3, 2009

Researchers' homepages:
INRS - Energy, Materials and Telecommunications
Jean-Pol Dodelet

Related stories and briefs:
Nitrogen gives nanotube fuel cells a charge -- related research

Back to ERN April 6, 2009



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