Researchers Develope Platinum-Free Fuel Cell Catalysts

Schematic of Synthesis PANI-M-C catalysts

In brief: Los Alamos researchers Gang Wu, Christina Johnston, and Piotr Zelenay along with Karren More of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, have described a family of non-precious metal catalysts that approach the performance of platinum in fuel cell applications.

The word

Schematic diagram of PANI-M-C synthesis

The paper, published in Science, describe the cost-sustainable catalysts for use in high-power fuel cell applications, including automotive. Their approach uses polyaniline (PANI)as a precursor to a carbon-nitrogen template for high-temperature synthesis of catalysts incorporating iron and cobalt (i.e. PANI-M-C).

The most active materials in this group catalyze cathodic oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) at potentials within about 60 millivolts of that delivered by current state-of-the-art carbon-supported platinum systems.

This could eliminate platinum as a requirement for polymer electrolyte fuel cells, aiding in their more widespread adoption and lowering costs overall. Platinum has proved to be a significant economic challenge to fuel cell adoption and commercialization.

In addition, tests of the carbon-iron-cobalt catalyst fuel cells showed effective conversion of hydrogen and oxygen into water without producing large amounts of undesirable hydrogen peroxide (a common problem in new fuel cell techs). In fact, the high efficiency of the process showed less than 1% of peroxide production.

The encouraging point is that we have found a catalyst with a good durability and life cycle relative to platinum-based catalysts. For all intents and purposes, this is a zero-cost catalyst in comparison to platinum, so it directly addresses one of the main barriers to hydrogen fuel cells.

—Piotr Zelenay, corr. author for the paper

And so ...

The project was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (through their Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office) and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Photo credits: Gang Wu et al

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