A significant advancement in hydrogen fuel cell technology has been made, notably reducing costs. This achievement, a result of collaborative research efforts, involves substituting platinum with silver in catalysts, paving the way for more affordable and efficient green energy storage solutions.
As the world increasingly turns to renewable energy, a key obstacle is the effective storage of energy during times when renewable sources like solar and wind are not available.
The hydrogen fuel cell, a major solution in this regard, has received a substantial advancement. This is thanks to groundbreaking research from the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Stanford University, and the Toyota Research Institute (TRI). This research was later applied in a practical setting through a collaboration between Stanford and the Technion Israel Institute of Technology.
Michaela Burke Stevens, an associate scientist at SLAC and Stanford University’s joint SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis and a senior author of the study, emphasized the potential of hydrogen fuel cells in energy storage and conversion, using hydrogen as an alternative to traditional fuels like gasoline. However, she noted the high operational costs of fuel cells.
The Expense Challenge in Fuel Cells
Burke Stevens pointed out that the high cost is largely due to the use of expensive platinum group metals (PGM) in the catalyst, which is essential for the chemical reaction in fuel cells. This led her team to explore ways to reduce costs by replacing some of the PGM with a more affordable alternative, silver. However, altering the fundamental chemistry of fuel cells presents significant challenges, as catalysts that work in lab conditions often fail in practical applications.
This research team managed to balance costs by partially substituting PGMs with silver. The breakthrough came in simplifying the process of applying the catalyst to the cell’s electrodes, as illustrated by a silver-palladium thin film on a porous carbon electrode.
Traditional methods involve mixing the catalyst in a liquid and spreading it on the mesh electrode, which often leads to inconsistent results across different lab environments. To overcome this, the SLAC team used a vacuum chamber for more controlled catalyst deposition onto electrodes. Tom Jaramillo, director of SUNCAT, highlighted the reproducibility of this method.
Collaborative Research and Its Practical Implications
To ensure the method’s applicability to full-scale fuel cells, the team collaborated with experts at Technion, who validated the method in a practical fuel cell setting. The partnership, initiated by Stanford graduate student José Zamora Zeledón with Technion’s Dario Dekel and PhD student John Douglin, successfully demonstrated that replacing costly PGMs with silver in the catalysts could lead to equally effective yet more affordable fuel cells. This opens up opportunities for further ambitious research in catalyst development.
Jaramillo and Dekel both expressed enthusiasm about the potential impact of this partnership on both academic research and practical fuel cell industry applications. Jaramillo stressed the importance of reducing costs for the broader adoption of fuel cells in applications like heavy-duty transportation and clean energy storage.
This research, published in Nature Energy on November 9, 2023, was partially funded by the DOE’s Office of Science through the SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis, a joint institute of SLAC and Stanford, and the Toyota Research Institute.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about hydrogen fuel cell breakthrough
What is the recent breakthrough in hydrogen fuel cell technology?
The recent breakthrough in hydrogen fuel cell technology involves using silver instead of platinum in catalysts, significantly lowering the cost and enhancing the feasibility of green energy storage solutions.
How does this breakthrough impact the cost of hydrogen fuel cells?
By replacing expensive platinum group metals (PGM) with silver in the catalyst, the cost of hydrogen fuel cells is substantially reduced, making it a more affordable option for energy storage and conversion.
What institutions were involved in this hydrogen fuel cell research?
The research was a collaborative effort involving the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Stanford University, the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), and the Technion Israel Institute of Technology.
What is the main challenge in hydrogen fuel cell development?
The main challenge in hydrogen fuel cell development is finding an efficient and cost-effective way to store energy, especially during periods when renewable sources like solar and wind are not available.
How does the new catalyst composition benefit hydrogen fuel cells?
The new catalyst composition, which includes silver, offers a more cost-effective alternative to traditional platinum-based catalysts, making hydrogen fuel cells a more viable option for widespread use in energy storage and conversion.
What are the future implications of this hydrogen fuel cell research?
This breakthrough paves the way for more research into cost-effective and efficient catalysts, potentially leading to broader adoption of hydrogen fuel cells in areas such as heavy-duty transportation and clean energy storage.
More about hydrogen fuel cell breakthrough
- SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
- Stanford University’s Energy Research
- Toyota Research Institute
- Technion Israel Institute of Technology
- Nature Energy Publication
- Department of Energy’s Office of Science