Analytical Instrumentation

  • How Long Do Fuel Cells Last?

How Long Do Fuel Cells Last?

Aug 07 2020 Read 292 Times

New research from Queen Mary University of London suggests that when manufactured in a certain way, graphene could be an effective support material for hydrogen fuel cells. The study was published in the journal Nanoscale, with scientists using an innovative technique to develop graphene-based hydrogen fuel cell catalysts. Durable, scalable and cost effective, the team say the technique could emerge as a commercially available solution for hydrogen fuel cell production.

A cheaper alternative to platinum

Currently, platinum is the most common catalyst used to create fuel cells. While it is effective the high price point has made commercialisation a problem. Instead of using pure platinum, many commercial catalysts are made by coating carbon by tiny platinum nanoparticles. This is efficient in the short term but significantly reduces the overall lifespan of fuel cells.

Using graphene to produce hydrogen fuel cells could overcome the issues of price and durability. The material is made up of a monolayer of tightly bound carbon atoms arranged in a hexagon-shaped framework. With good corrosion resistance, large surface area and high conductivity, graphene has all the hallmarks of a good support material.

Ultra-durable catalysts with commercial appeal

With assistance from researchers at University College London (UCL), the team engineered hydrogen fuel cell catalysts by decorating graphene with platinum nanoparticles. Performance was assessed using accelerated stress tests designed to simulate heavy use and assess fuel cell durability, with UCL Professor Dan Brett saying the results were promising.

“Satisfying global energy demands without damaging the environment is one of the great modern challenges. Hydrogen fuel cells can provide cleaner energy and are already used in some cars as an alternative to petrol or diesel,” says Brett, a Professor of Electrochemical Engineering at UCL. “However, a big barrier to their widespread commercialisation is the ability for catalysts to withstand extensive cycling required for their use in energy applications. We've shown that by using graphene instead of the typical amorphous carbon as a support material we can create ultra-durable catalysts.”

With the potential for mass production, graphene-based catalysts could emerge as an affordable and eco-friendly solution for a range of energy applications. “We look forward to incorporating our new catalyst into commercial technology and realising the advantages of longer-life fuel cells,” says lead author of the study Gyen Ming Angel, a PhD student at UCL.

Want to know more about what’s ahead for the auto industry? ‘What’s New for Cars: In Terms of Lubricants and Fuels’ explores how increasing fuel economy standards will influence manufacturing over the coming years.

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