Fuel cells are indispensable for hydrogen powered cars, and it looks like hydrogen may be the ultimate energy storage that meets all the demands of a clean “fuel” (though it’s only a carrier, not a fuel).
Fuel cells, are expensive, though, and their price is due to platinum, which is a rare metal.
Chemists from the Brookhaven National Laboratory have patented three innovating catalysts that accelerate chemical reactions in fuel cells, that could greatly reduce the costs and increase the use of fuel cells in future electric cars.
The new catalysts are highly active and stable, and they also contain a lot less platinum than the amount currently used in fuel cells, thus reducing costs.
Two of the invented catalysts speed up oxygen reduction. One is composed of a thin layer of platinum on palladium nanoparticles, which is more efficient than current catalysts. The other includes metal oxides, such as niobium oxide and ruthenium oxide, with a thin layer of platinum. The patent also covers a unique method for depositing a thin layer of platinum on the metal-oxide catalysts.
The third patent is for adding gold clusters to platinum-based catalysts. Gold protects the platinum during sudden stop/go conditions, usually seen in city traffic conditions, where cars have to accelerate and then brake. The gold clusters protected the platinum from being oxidized, improving the fuel cell’s lifetime.