New, cheaper hydrogen fuel cell uses iron instead of rare and expensive platinum

Hydrogen fuel cells are an environmentally friendly technology that converts hydrogen into electricity, with heat and water being the only by-products. It makes them a attractive green alternative to portable power. However, fuel cell technology has been limited by its high cost, as it uses rare and expensive materials such as platinum for the catalyst.

Now researchers at Imperial College London have developed a catalyst that uses only iron, carbon and nitrogen – cheap and readily available materials – for hydrogen fuel cells . It can replace rare and expensive platinum, allowing greater use of the technology. If used wisely, they are as efficient as a precious metal for running a high power fuel cell.

Our cheaper catalyst design should make this a reality and enable the deployment of many more renewable energy systems using hydrogen as a fuel, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and putting the world on the path to zero. net emission.

Anthony Kucernak, a professor in Imperial’s Department of Chemistry.

To make it work, the Imperial team made a catalyst in which all the iron was dispersed as individual atoms in an electrically conductive carbon matrix. Single atom iron has different properties than bulk iron, where all the atoms are packed together, making it more reactive. This means that iron powers the necessary reaction in the fuel cell, acting as a good substitute for platinum.

We have developed a novel approach to fabricate a series of single-atom catalysts that offer the potential to enable a series of new chemical and electrochemical processes. Specifically, we used a unique synthesis method, called transmetallation, to avoid the formation of iron lumps during synthesis. This process should be beneficial to other scientists seeking to prepare a similar type of catalyst.

Dr. Asad Mehmood, Department of Imperial Chemistry.

In laboratory tests, researchers have shown that a single atom iron catalyst has similar performance to platinum catalysts in a real fuel cell system. Iron-based catalyst helps build cheaper fuel cells which will greatly reduce the cost of fuel cell applications.

The team is currently working on improving the stability of the catalyst so that it has the same durability and performance as platinum, and hopes to expand it for use in commercial fuel cells.

More information: (English text).

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