Researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory have discovered a way to create hydrogen fuel cells with out using platinum — a precious metal which is more expensive than gold.
Fuel cells produce electrical energy caused by a chemical reaction between a fuel supply and a catalyst (oxidizing agent) and are seen as a potential replacement for engines and batteries in many applications such as personal electronics and cars. The Los Alamos research team has developed a catalyst made of carbon, iron and cobalt — plentiful elements and much cheaper than platinum — which could mean that low cost fuel cells would become available and that fuel cell technology might become an economically viable alternative energy source.
The new process also manages to create electricity without creating large amounts of hydrogen peroxide as a by-product. Hydrogen peroxide can reduce fuel cell efficiency and cause damage to fuel cell membranes.
Los Alamos researchers Gang Wu, Christina Johnston, and Piotr Zelenay, along with Karren More of Oak Ridge National Laboratory have published their findings today in the journal Science.
Corresponding author Zelanay said, “The encouraging point is that we have found a catalyst with a good durability and life cycle relative to platinum-based catalysts. For all intents and purposes, this is a zero-cost catalyst in comparison to platinum, so it directly addresses one of the main barriers to hydrogen fuel cells.”
The researchers have applied for a patent on the new process. More information can be found at this press release.