Fuel Cell Advance: Researchers Develop Low-Cost, Nickel-Based Catalyst

First Posted: Jan 15, 2016 10:25 AM EST

Transportation in most nations consumes massive amounts of fuel annually. In the U.S. land, water and air transportation accounts for over 20 percent of the country's energy's consumption. Fuel cells and rechargeable batteries are two of the most effective alternatives for cars. In the latest study, scientists at the University of Delaware have created a new low-cost, nickel-based catalyst, which is a breakthrough for fuel cells.

"Both fuel cells and batteries are clean technologies that have their own sets of challenges for commercialization," Yushan Yan, coauthor of the study, and a chemical and biomolecular expert, said in a news release. "Fuel cell cars demand almost no change in customer experience because they can be charged in less than 5 minutes and be driven for more than 300 miles in one charge. And these challenges, such as hydrogen production and transportation, lie with the engineers."

Fuel cells could be quite expensive. However, Yan and his team's new development cuts the cost of hydrogen fuel cells, where expensive platinum catalysts are replaced with cheaper ones made from metals such as nickel. The new technique replaces the operating environment from acidic to base and the nickel replaced the activity of the platinum, according to the researchers.

"This new hydroxide exchange membrane fuel cell can offer high performance at an unprecedented low cost," Yan said. "Our real hope is that we can put hydroxide exchange membrane fuel cells into cars and make them truly affordable - maybe $23,000 for a Toyota Mirai."

The findings of this study were published in Nature Communications.

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