Fuel Cells: Progress With Platinum

Fuel Cells: Progress With Platinum

Research demonstrates method to improve metal's efficiency as a catalyst.

While research continues around the globe to find alternatives to fossil fuels for vehicle applications (see "Fuel Cells In The Warehouse" for one such example), scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory say they have made progress in solving one major impediment to the use of fuel cells -- the degradation of platinum in stop-and-go applications.

Platinum, an efficient electrocatalyst for accelerating chemical reactions in fuel cells, degrades over time, reducing its effectiveness as a catalyst. However, under lab conditions that mimic a fuel cell environment, researchers at the Department of Energy laboratory have discovered a method to overcome this problem. Their technique? The addition of gold clusters to the platinum electrocatalyst.

(Clockwise from lower left) Brookhaven Laboratory researchers Kotaro Sasaki, Junliang Zhang, Eli Sutter and Radoslav Adzic view gold clusters on a single-crystal platinum surface using a scanning tunneling microscope.
A hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell converts hydrogen and oxygen into water, producing electricity as part of the process. Platinum electrocatalysts speed up that oxidation. In their new method, Brookhaven researchers displaced a single layer of copper with gold on carbon-supported platinum nanoparticles, then subjected the gold to several sweeps of 1.2 volts, which transformed the gold into three-dimensional clusters. Further examination and experimentation by the researchers verified the reduced oxidation of platinum and its potential to remain stable in stop-and-go conditions.

"Promising possibilities" is how researcher Radoslav Adzic describes the scientists' discovery. The next step: to reproduce the results in real fuel cells.

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