While electric vehicles have taken the leading role in alternative power sources, there is still signficant interest in hydrogen-based vehicles, unmanned aircraft and energy sotrage systems using fuel cells. General Motors and Honda for example have set up an $85m manufacturing joint venture to mass produce hydrogen fuel cell systems. Mass production of fuel cell systems is expected to begin around 2020.
However, today’s fuel cells use large amounts of platinum, one of the world’s most expensive metals. So researchers from the Technical University of Denmark and the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have significantly reduced the need for platinum in a fuel cell by creating a nanoalloy using a new technique that is well suited for mass production.
“A nano solution is needed to mass-produce resource-efficient catalysts for fuel cells. With our method, only one tenth as much platinum is needed for the most demanding reactions. This can reduce the amount of platinum required for a fuel cell by about 70 per cent,” says Björn Wickman, researcher at the Department of Physics at Chalmers University of Technology.
If this level of efficiency is possible to achieve in a fuel cell, the amount of required platinum would be comparable to what is used in an ordinary car catalytic converter. “Hopefully, this will allow fuel cells to replace fossil fuels and also be a complement to battery-powered cars,” said Wickman.
Previous research has shown that it is possible to mix platinum with other metals, such as yttrium, to reduce the amount of platinum in a fuel cell. However, yttrium oxidizes instead of forming an alloy with the platinum. Instead, using sputtering in a vacuum chamber creates a nanometre-thin film of the new alloy that allows mass-produced platinum and yttrium fuel cell catalysts. This needs a change to the design of the fuel cell, but reduces the cost by a factor of 10 say the researchers.
The results were recently published in the journal Advanced Materials Interfaces: “High Specific and Mass Activity for the Oxygen Reduction Reaction for Thin Film Catalysts of Sputtered Pt3Y” https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/admi.201700311/full
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