Platinum-free fuel cell may offer cheaper green power

December 26th, 2008 - 6:34 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Dec 26 (ANI): Chinese scientists have devised new low cost platinum-free fuel cells that promises to offer cheaper green power.

These cells use alkali membrane and may make it possible to replace the expensive platinum metal with low cost nickel catalyst.

In a standard fuel cell, a platinum catalyst at one electrode breaks down hydrogen into protons and electrons.

The protons pass through a proton exchange membrane to a second electrode where they react with oxygen to produce water. The electrons are syphoned off as electric current.

These fuel cells have been used by car manufacturers as a potential choice of the internal combustion engine, but due to the use of expensive metal platinum it is yet to be adopted at a larger scale.

The membranes used in fuel cells create an acidic environment, but platinum remains steady in such corrosive conditions.

The research team led by Lin Zhuang at Wuhan University in Hubei province has designed a new alkali membrane that would make it possible to replace the precious metal with a much cheaper nickel catalyst.

“There has hitherto been no commercial alkaline polymer electrolyte suitable for fuel-cell use,” New Scientist magazine quoted Zhuang as saying.

Many are not stable at temperatures higher than 40 degree C, but most fuel cells require more extreme operational temperatures, he added.

The team claims that their new polymer proves easy to make into fuel-cell membranes, and can also be mixed with the catalyst itself - this increases the contact between the two components and boosts efficiency.

The power output of the new prototype, which uses nickel as a catalyst, is still relatively low. It was 50 milliwatts per square centimetre at 60 degree C.

“The power output is still lower than that of fuel cells using platinum, but such a comparison may not be appropriate because platinum fuel cells have been studied and optimised for decades,” said Zhuang.

The findings appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (ANI)

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