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Dutch University Discovers How to Reduce Platinum Use in Fuel Cells

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Climate change could be affected by this new fuel cell material.

Researchers from Tufts University have discovered a way to make fuel cells cheaper by using less platinum. Platinum is used as a catalyst in fuel cells, inducing the chemical reactions that make green technology like electric vehicle batteries work.

Platinum, however, is extremely scarce and so using it in any technologies generally prohibits them from being very affordable. In addition, platinum reacts with carbon monoxide to create a byproduct that must be removed as part of the manufacturing process.

The work by Tufts to develop new fuel cell materials will make green technologies more affordable and therefore, more effective at mitigating climate change.

By using single, isolated platinum atoms instead of a larger piece of metal, the researchers were able still able to take advantage of the catalysing qualities of platinum while strengthening the performance of another metal used as a catalyst, copper. While copper is much cheaper than platinum, it is not as effective.

The paper, which was published in Nature Communications, explains how the process began with investigating how platinum and copper would mix together. The scientists conducted their first set of experiments and were surprised to find that copper dissolves in platinum, “like sugar in hot coffee”, as senior author on the paper and Professor of Chemistry Charles Sykes, Ph.D.

Then, with the help of the School of Engineering, they found the specific chemical reaction that could be induced by platinum and copper but that also would be useful in industrial applications.

Platinum isn’t just used in fuel cells. The material is also found in chemicals from sustainable feedstock and catalytic converters. The platinum-copper catalyser could be a game-changer for green technologies.

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