Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is using nature to model a more efficient catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells. The new catalyst uses an iron center with molecular chains composed of nitrogen atoms that can extract electrons from hydrogen atoms.
This can potentially replace the expensive commercial platinum catalyst, which can lead to the production of more affordable hydrogen fuel cells in the future.
Dr. Morris Bullock, from the Center of Molecular Electrolysis of PNNL, says the new catalyst is based on the hydrogenase enzyme. This enzyme is capable of splitting hydrogen atoms into electrons and protons, and putting them back together to create hydrogen once again.
The enzymes have shown a promising compatibility with iron and nickel, making these metals potential materials for the fabrication of a novel catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells. The metal will be coupled with nitrogen atoms, known as pendant amines, which can effectively transport protons between the metal and liquid solution, as well as facilitate the production of hydrogen.
PNNL researchers report initial experiments using the new iron catalyst are relatively successful. However, it will take more years of development and testing before the catalyst is ready for commercialization.