Efficient, robust and economic catalyst materials hold the key to achieving a breakthrough in fuel cell technology. Scientists from Jülich and Berlin have developed a material for converting hydrogen and oxygen to water using a tenth of the typical amount of platinum that was previously required. With the aid of state-of-the-art electron microscopy, the researchers discovered that the function of the nanometre-scale catalyst particles is decisively determined by their geometric shape and atomic structure. This discovery opens up new paths for further improving catalysts for energy conversion and storage. The results have been published in the current issue of the respected journal Nature Materials.
Hydrogen-powered fuel cells are regarded as a clean alternative to conventional combustion engines, as, aside from electric energy, the only substance produced during operation is water. At present, the implementation of hydrogen fuel cells is being hindered by the high material costs of platinum. Large quantities of the expensive noble metal are still required for the electrodes in the fuel cells at which thechemical conversion processes take place. Without the catalytic effect of the platinum, it is not currently possible to achieve the necessary conversion rates.
As catalysis takes place at the surface of the platinum only, material can be saved and, simultaneously, the efficiency of the electrodes improved by using platinum nanoparticles, thus increasing the ratio of platinum surface to material required. Although the tiny particles are around ten thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, the surface area of a kilogram of such particles is equivalent to that of several football fields.
Read more at: Phys.org