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Sandwich structure enables cheaper, more efficient hydrogen fuel cells


March 19, 2012

UCF Professor Sergey Stolbov who has created cheaper, more efficient hydrogen fuel cells using a sandwich-like structure

UCF Professor Sergey Stolbov who has created cheaper, more efficient hydrogen fuel cells using a sandwich-like structure

For the predicted hydrogen economy to become a reality, fuel cells must become more efficient and cost effective. Researchers from the University of Central Florida (UCF) claim to have addressed both these problems by creating a sandwich-like structure that allows more abundant materials to be used as catalysts in hydrogen fuel cells.

Current hydrogen fuel cells generally rely on catalysts made of platinum, which is rare and expensive. Unfortunately there aren’t many alternatives because most elements can’t resist the corrosive process that converts hydrogen’s chemical energy into electrical power. Platinum and iridium are up to the task, but both are also rare and expensive, while gold and palladium – although less expensive – don’t stand up very well to the highly acidic solvents present in the chemical reaction within fuel cells.

In an effort to make gold and palladium better suited for the chemical reaction, UCF Professor Sergey Stolbov and postdoctoral research associate Marisol Alcántara Ortigoza layered cheaper and more abundant elements with gold and palladium in a sandwich-like structure.

Below a top (outer monoatomic) layer of either gold or palladium they positioned a layer that enhances the energy conversion rate of the fuel cell while also protecting the catalyst from the acidic environment. These two top layers sit upon a bottom layer made of an inexpensive tungsten substrate that also acts to stabilize the catalyst. The researchers say this structure allows more energy to be converted, while also reducing the cost as rarer and more expensive metals aren’t needed.

“We are very encouraged by our first attempts that suggest that we can create two cost-effective and highly active palladium- and gold-based catalysts –for hydrogen fuel cells, a clean and renewable energy source,” Stolbov said.

Stolbov says the team’s approach is quite reliable but that experiments need to be conducted to test their predictions and determine whether it has the potential for large-scale application. They are working with a group within the U.S. Department of Energy to try and duplicate the results.

Stolbov’s team’s research appears in The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters.

Source: University of Central Florida

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Hummm palladium, now let's see who has the most palladium in the world and controls the market. Russia, who nationalized their mining of palladium about 5 years ago. Nope if hydrogen is going to be a viable source you have to find another more abundant catalysts located here in the US or Canada.

S Michael

S Michael; Its either gold or palladium that can be used.

Flipider Comm

If the safe storage of hydrogen and fueling stations are achieved, why not use an efficient internal combustion engine to burn hydrogen? Yes, fuel cells are more efficient. But if fuel cells are to hard to produce at low costs, why bother?

bio-power jeff

bio-jeff, the reason H2 ICEs are not the solution is that hydrogen production is still relatively expensive and it needs all the efficiency it can get to compete with the alternative fuels.

Knowledge Thirsty

I agree with Jeff.... Why not develop an engine capable of burning Hydrogen (like a propane or natural gas injection system, only utilizing hydrogen) and skip the fuel cells. It is my understanding that better and better hydrogen production systems are being developed, and perhaps we could eventually get to a point that every homeowner could produce their own hydrogen supply, supplemented with commercially produced hydrogen.

Out of the exhaust should be OXYGEN....


Since when is Gold Cheap? Gold and Platinum are both right around 1600$ an ounce right now....


A far more effective way to store and release hydrogen is by aluminum-water reaction. See for example http://www.alcres.com


chances that russia has the most mineable qtty of palladium is like saying that china has the most rare earth metals. canada and brazil have masses too, but it isnt near rural locations and hasent been developed yet. if the prices rise american, canadian, etc mines will re open

Antony Stewart
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