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New Fuel Cell With Five Times Less Platinum Developed in Copenhagen

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Platinum Pricing Drives Up Hydrogen Fuel Cell Costs
Platinum Pricing Drives Up Hydrogen Fuel Cell Costs

Hydrogen fuel cells, which could find applications from vehicles to backup power supplies, suffer from one important drawback – expense.

Current mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell catalysts employ a small amount of platinum to sustain the reaction necessary to generate electricity from hydrogen. Most importantly, platinum is non-corroding, which helps the fuel cell last a long time. The problem is that platinum is rarer and more expensive than gold. The current General Motors fuel cell uses 30g of platinum, which is better than $40,000 for the platinum alone. Still, automakers are planning on rolling out hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that will probably start at over $50,000 for a basic sedan.

Recent discoveries by researchers at the University of Copenhagen could lead to significant cost reductions by optimizing the platinum catalysts used in hydrogen fuel cells. They determined that the average fuel cell stack available on the market today generates about 1A/mg Pt [Platinum]. Platinum is used is varying ways to form a hydrogen fuel cell catalyst, particles and nanoparticles being more efficient than sheets.

At first, the researchers concluded that power output was directly related to platinum particle size and weight. They started experimenting on their own, and found that it wasn’t the amount of platinum that determined output, but the density of the platinum particles. Through various iterations in determining the optimum particle size, they had overlooked particle density. As it turns out, the key to optimum catalyst efficiency, and therefore output, was linked to the most densely-packed platinum particles.

While currently-available hydrogen fuel cell platinum catalysts average 1A/mg Pt, the research at University of Copenhagen found that, with the proper platinum density, the catalyst could generate up to 8A/mg Pt. In the real world, they estimate that it would generate 5A/mg Pt. A hydrogen fuel cell catalyst such as the General Motors one, could be reduced in cost to less than $10,000. Such a fuel cell development could significantly improve the costs associated with bringing a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle to market.

Image © Monex

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12 COMMENTS

  1. This article doesn’t make any sense. The source says ” The current General Motors fuel cell uses 30g of platinum, which is better than $40,000 for the platinum alone.” But the price of platinum is only about $46 per gram, so that’s $1380 for 30 grams. http://platinumprice.org/

      • dave951753 mixing up two things actually, darn those metric/SAE units!
        After doing some more research, I also found that the 30g is an obsolete number, in spite of the fact that it doesn’t really factor in all that much to the overall cost of the fuel cell.

        • dave951753 if it IS so cheap, then I wonder why Toyota is projecting its first fuel cell sedan to cost $50,000 or more? are they charging development costs? The least expensive BASIC vehicle is just $12,000, which is why, in my mind anyways, I’m thinking that a $40,000 powertrain sounds plausible.

        • bnjroo 
          It ISNT cheap.  Just not anywhere near as expensive as you think.
          Look at the Nissan Leaf.  If we subtract the ~$12,000 battery pack from the $29,000  base price, we have a $17,000 EV chassis including motor, inverter, heat pump HVAC, etc.  That is where we have to start before adding carbon fiber hydrogen tanks, a ~1.5 kwh buffer battery pack, a fuel cell stack, and supporting systems.
          But the real killer is the fact that these will be low volume cars with very little economy of scale.

        • dave951753 bnjroo Nissan Leaf’s battery pack is $12,000? That’s how much the Tesla 85kWh battery pack is worth [at least on the battery replacement program]!
          You’re right about economies of scale, and unless we get infrastructure to support it, it’ll never go full-scale. Still, Tesla Motors started out with very little infrastructure to back it up. Tesla says heck with it and builds its own. GM and Toyota will have to build their own infrastructure to back up their fuel cell vehicles.

        • bnjroo 
          The cost of a service contract has nothing to do with the cost of the battery.  And, of course, as you know, you need to deduct the “core” cost from the replacement battery.  There are many reuseable parts in the Tesla pack – the cells are the wear items.
          And, if the Nissan pack only cost, lets say, $4,000, then a rolling EV chassis without batteries costs $25,000!
          Infrastructure is a non-issue.  For a measly billion dollars (Americans spend $500 billion EVERY YEAR on gasoline), hydrogen suppliers can build 1000 small stations.  After that, the system can easily become self supporting and profitable.
          The cost of the vehicle is the issue, not the cost of the infrastructure.   And the OEMs believe that volume production will solve the vehicle cost issue.

        • @bnjroo
          A little more on Tesla pack costs:
          The difference in MSRP between the (now discontinued) 40kwh model S and the 60kwh model S worked out to $550 per kwh.
          The difference in MSRP between the 60 kwh and 85 kwh versions works out to only $400 per kwh because Tesla uses a more energy dense battery cell in the 85 kwh pack.  Therefore, they are only upgrading the cells and nothing else (the enclosure, heating and cooling systems, and charging system stay basically the same)

        • dave951753 bnjroo true, and further technological advancements will only make HFCVs more attractive economically, as well as environmentally.

    • dave951753 
      Exactly…we already use platinum in catalytic converters, albeit a lot less ( 3g) but the cost of platinum isn’t as big a factor in total cost.  However, I forever read these articles by anti-Hydrogen people as a reason for holding back on fuel cells.
      Also, look at the current cost of cars.  $50,000 is not an unheard of price for a luxury car, or even a very large van or SUV.   However, for people who are ecologically minded, they could easily justify this cost because of its beneficial effects on the environment.  And that is a significant portion of the upper middle class!

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