New Electrode Design Could Make "Much Cheaper" Fuel Cell Possible

australian cathode photo

In related hydrogen breakthrough news, a team of scientists from Melbourne's Monash University has developed a new fuel cell prototype that could pave the way for a generation of much cheaper, more efficient fuel-cell vehicles. The results of their project, which was led by Maria Forsyth, a professor of materials engineering at the Australian Center of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, are published in the current issue of Science (sub. required).

The main obstacle to the mass production of hydrogen fuel cells has always been the high cost of platinum nanoparticles -- the small quantity contained within each cell typically adds $3500 to $4000 to the car's sticker price -- which are used to build the cell's air electrode. The electrode reduces oxygen and is thus a vital component of the fuel cell, helping in energy generation and storage. Aside from its high cost, platinum nanoparticles are also extremely difficult to find and have a nasty tendency to become inactivated by contact with carbon monoxide or by clumping together.

pedot electrode photo

PEDOT superior to platinum in almost every capacity
To get around these problems, Forsyth and her colleagues used an alternative oxygen reduction catalyst, poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene), or PEDOT, for short (a type of polymer). Unlike its platinum counterpart, the PEDOT-based electrode did not become inactivated upon being exposed to CO; it was able to run continuously for 1500 hours and demonstrated oxygen conversion rates similar to those of Pt-based electrodes.

Could cheaper fuel-cell vehicles be on the way?
Not only did the new electrodes run well, they were also much cheaper to build and were more stable. Forsyth estimates that the cost of a PEDOT-based electrode would only add a few hundred dollars to the price of a fuel-cell vehicle. The scientists next plan on building a fuel cell prototype in 3D to maximize its surface area -- and thus the amount of current it can generate. Another application for the electrode would be in zinc air batteries, which are being used to store energy in vehicles.

Via ::ABC Science: Cheaper fuel cell on the way (news website)

More about fuel cells
::Fuel Cell Cars Still 15 Years Away Says Government Study
::New Fuel Cell Design Could Help Laptops Run 5 to 10 Times Longer
::TreeHugger Picks: Fuel Cell Concepts for Laptops