Making hydrogen fuel cells practical cost effective

Making hydrogen fuel cells practical and cost effective

10:53 PM, 18th March 2012
Making hydrogen fuel cells practical and cost effective
Sergey Stolbov, Professor, UCF

FLORIDA, US: Hydrogen fuel cells, like those found in some ‘green’ vehicles, have a lot of promise as an alternative fuel source, but making them practical on a large scale requires them to be more efficient and cost effective. Researchers at University of Central Florida (UCF) may have found a way around both hurdles.

The majority of hydrogen fuel cells use platinum as catalysts which is a rare and expensive metal. There are few alternatives because most elements can’t endure the fuel cell’s highly acidic solvents present in the reaction that converts hydrogen’s chemical energy into electrical power. Only four elements can resist the corrosive process- platinum, iridium, gold and palladium. The first two are rare and expensive, which makes them impractical for large-scale use. The other two don’t do well with the chemical reaction.

Sergey Stolbov, Professor, UCF and Marisol Alcantara Ortigoza, postdoctoral research associate, UCF focused on making gold and palladium better suited for the reaction. They created a sandwich-like structure that layers cheaper and more abundant elements with gold and palladium and other elements to make it more effective.

The outer monoatomic layer (the top of the sandwich) is either palladium or gold. Below it is a layer that works to enhance the energy conversion rate but also acts to protect the catalyst from the acidic environment. These two layers reside on the bottom slice of the sandwich, an inexpensive substrate (tungsten), which also plays a role in the stability of the catalyst.

“We are very encouraged by our first attempts that suggest that we can create two cost-effective and highly active palladium and gold-based catalysts for hydrogen fuel cells, a clean and renewable energy source,” said Stolbov. The work was recently published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters. By creating these structures, more energy is converted, and because the more expensive and rare metals are not used, the cost could be significantly less.

Stolbov is working with a group within the US Department of Energy to determine whether the results can be duplicated and have potential for large-scale application. If a way could be found to make hydrogen fuel cells practical and cost effective, vehicles that run on gasoline and contribute to the destruction of the ozone layer could become a thing of the past.

© University of Central Florida News

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