Researchers Claim Hydrogen Fuel Cell Breakthrough

University scientists claim to have discovered a way to double the energy output potential of hydrogen fuel cells.

By remodeling the size of platinum fuel cell catalysts, researched from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have built platinum nanoparticles for catalysis in fuel cells. They claim the new size-optimized catalysts are twice as good as the best process commercially currently available.

Cost has long been the biggest obstacle to mass fuel cell adoption as an automotive powertrain solution. Chief among this has been the platinum used in fuel cells being extremely expensive, a serious limiting factor in applications up to now.

A team TUM led by Roland Fischer, professor for inorganic and organometallic chemistry, Aliaksandr Bandarenka, physics of energy conversion and storage and Alessio Gagliardi, professor for simulation of nanosystems for energy conversion, claims now to have now found the best size of platinum particles which now perform at levels twice as high as the best processes presently employed.

“It turns out that there are certain optimum sizes for platinum stacks,” explained Fischer. Particles measuring about one nanometer and containing approximately 40 platinum atoms are ideal. “Platinum catalysts of this order of size have a small volume but a large number of highly active spots, resulting in high mass activity,” added Bandarenka.

Interdisciplinary collaboration at the Catalysis Research Center (CRC) was an important factor in the research team’s results. Combining theoretical capabilities in modelling, joint discussions and physical and chemical knowledge gained from experiments resulted in a model showing how catalysts can be designed with the ideal form, size and size distribution of the components involved.

However, the team admits there is a way to go in seeking even greater efficiency. “Our catalyst is twice as effective as the best conventional catalyst on the market,” says Garlyyev, adding that the current 50% reduction of the amount of platinum would have to increase to 80% to see widespread adoption of the powertrains.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_


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