The Holy Grail of alternative fuels is the hydrogen fuel cell, a literal zero-emissions vehicle that requires expensive and rare platinum as a reaction catalyst. This makes hydrogen fuel cells incredibly costly, but researchers at Brown University have developed a cheaper and more durable alternative that is the best replacement for platinum yet.
With the help of his students, chemist Shouheng Sun developed this new catalyst. This alternative to platinum uses readily-available cobalt and graphene sheets, which is a single-atom thick layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern. While the reaction took longer for the oxygen to separate the electrons from the hydrogen fuel, one the reaction gets going it is actually faster than platinum. This stripping of electrons produces the electric current needed to power the batteries of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. T
It is the best reaction developed so far of a non-platinum catalyst, and that has Sun hopeful that a cheaper alternative the the precious metal could soon be implemented. While that doesn’t solve the problem of high-pressure fuel tanks or a lack of infrastructure, it is the cost more than anything that is holding back hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Both Obama and Congress have shown renewed interest in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and automakers are aiming to start selling hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the next four or five years.
While this isn’t the only project aimed at reducing hydrogen fuel cell costs, it is the best one developed so far. The cobalt-graphene catalyst isn’t quite ready for prime time but preliminary tests are promising. In addition to being cheaper, the cobalt-graphene reaction is more durable as well. Sun found that after 17 hours of testing, the cobalt-graphene catalyst still operated at 70% its original capacity, while platinum had fallen to 60%.
Is this the big break hydrogen fuel cells need?
Source: Brown University