Liquid Cathode Could Mean Cheaper Fuel Cell

A platinum-free liquid cathode could cut fuel-cell costs by 40 percent.

Published: 03-Sep-2009

Platinum remains the best material for speeding chemical reactions in hydrogen fuel cells, although the scarcity and cost of this element keep fuel cells from becoming more affordable and practical. Most alternative approaches involve simply replacing the platinum in the electrodes. Now a U.K. company called ACAL Energy has overhauled fuel cell design to reduce the amount of platinum used by 80 percent.

In a conventional fuel cell, platinum is embedded in porous carbon electrodes. ACAL's design replaces this with a solution containing low-cost molybdenum and vanadium as the catalyst. The resulting fuel cell works as well as a conventional one but should cost 40 percent less, the company says.

ACAL says its design gives power densities of 600 milliwatts per square centimeter at 0.6 volts. The benchmark value for automotive fuel cells is 900 milliwatts per square centimeter, says Hubert Gasteiger, a visiting professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. ACAL also claims that its fuel cell works unpressurized--adding pressure should increase the power density further.

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