Even though hydrogen fuel cells are most known and used, fuel cells can also be made to use different things as hydrocarbons and sugars. But pure hydrogen fuel cells are considered superior as they only emit water vapor and they produce lots of energy (even though the working process is the same).
The problem with pure hydrogen fuel cell is the costs, one of them being the platinum catalyst used to make electricity.
Researchers from Brigham Young University have a plan to make different fuel cells than those we actually know, and turn them into something very efficient and reliable. Their goal is to make a cheap fuel cell with a cheap catalyst, which can be even more efficient than a PEM and which can use something easier to make and store than hydrogen and which has no net emissions.
In their research the scientists are using materials which are considered by some not environmentally friendly as the weed-killing chemical known as viologen or paraquat. Viologen can be used as a catalyst in a fuel cell that uses carbohydrates (sugars) instead of pure hydrogen: “Carbohydrates are very energy rich. What we needed was a catalyst that would extract the electrons from glucose and transfer them to an electrode” said BYU chemistry professor Gerald Watt.
The fuel cell is able to convert 60% of the available energy in the sugars to usable energy much more than others made with carbohydrates before. The scientists are optimistic that they can reach even higher conversion rates in the future after further optimizations.