If hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are ever going to make it mainstream, one thing that’s definitely going to be needed is a cheaper fuel cell.
The problem, of course, is the balance between price and longevity. Cheaper fuel cells can be made, but then they don’t last very long. Platinum doesn’t corrode in a fuel cell like some other metals, which increases lifespan significantly over non-noble metals but is also more expensive than gold. Right now, the GM fuel cell uses about 30g of platinum per stack, which is worth about $40,000 alone.
Researchers have been working with different materials to come up with a powerful fuel cell catalyst that has a long lifespan but doesn’t cost as much. Researchers in South Korea, Case Western Reserve University, and University of North Texas have discovered an inexpensive catalyst that leaves out platinum altogether.
The new graphene-iodine catalyst is more affordable, by far, than platinum-based fuel cell catalysts and more easily-produced. Additionally, the new catalyst is more stable and more efficient than platinum-based catalysts. The researchers had experimented with various gases combined with graphene, including bromine, chlorine, and iodine, but found the iodine to work best.
In testing, the graphene-bromine catalyst generated 7% less electrical current than the equivalent platinum catalyst, graphene-chlorine 40% less, but graphene-iodine 33% more. In further testing, it was found that the graphene-iodine catalyst retained 87.4% capacity after 10,000 cycles, while the platinum-based catalyst only retained 62.5%
Finally, testing methanol and carbon monoxide contamination, the researchers found that platinum-based catalysts were seriously affected, but the graphene-based continued to function at normal levels. Could this be the answer fuel cell vehicle manufacturers have been looking for?