Though they’re used to produce electricity rathter than store it, fuel cells are similar to batteries in design and structure. The electrochemical reactions that take place inside fuel cells that produce electricity require coating their anodes with a catalyst. In the case of proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells used in vehicles, that’s typically been platinum in a very fine powder form, which adds significantly to their manufacturing cost.
Rather than coating the fuel cell anode with platinum, Aalto University researchers’ new approach entails using atomic layer deposition (ALD) to coat them with another corrosion-resistant noble metal – palladium. An ounce of nearly pure palladium currently sells for less than half that of platinum. Adding to potential cost savings, Aalto University’s ALD method requires 60% less catalyst than currently used methods.
“Researchers haven’t been able to achieve savings of this magnitude before with materials that are commercially available,” Aalto University Docent Tanjz Kallio said.
The PEM fuel cells in use in a growing range of vehicles today use hydrogen as a fuel. The Aalto University research team is also working on improving fuel cells that use ethanol or methanol for fuel. It’s also possible to use palladium as a catalyst in these fuel cells, according to the research team.
Don't want to miss a cleantech story? Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!
Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.