Could Liquid Catalyst To Replace Platinum Make Fuel Cells Viable?

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Fuel cells are often considered a significant part of the future energy mix, though that future always seems to be a few decades away.

That's partly down to the inefficient and rarely particularly green methods used to produce hydrogen, but it's as much about the cost of developing fuel cell vehicles and the expensive cells themselves.

New technology which does away with the expensive platinum used in fuel cells could change that, says Consumer Reports.

Existing fuel cells combine oxygen and hydrogen through a platinum-coated membrane to generate electricity, then used to power the vehicle.

Platinum, a rare and increasingly important metal--used mainly in catalytic converters in automobiles and for jewelry--is expensive, heavy and degrades with use. That isn't perfect for long-term automotive use and makes production of fuel cells incredibly expensive.

British firm ACAL Energy removes this metal from the equation, using a liquid catalyst in place of platinum in the fuel cell. It calls this liquid FlowCath, and as well as helping generate electricity within the cell, it has the side-benefit of cooling the fuel cell too.

It also prevents decay in the fuel cell, beating the U.S. Department of Energy's durability goals by a factor of two. In theory, says ACAL Energy, it could last for around 300,000 miles without degrading. Its most recent tests have passed 10,000 hours of degradation-free running over 16 months.

Unsurprisingly, these characteristics have got major automakers interested, and ACAL says six are lined up to test the new fuel cell design.

While it isn't clear which six automakers are interested, it isn't too great a leap of faith to assume they're among the recent high-profile fuel cell technology pairings--GM and Honda, Toyota and BMW, and Daimler, Renault-Nissan and Ford. Each company is planning fuel cell vehicles within the next five years, Toyota set to launch its car as soon as 2015.

Fuel cells may still be a few years away from widespread use--and the world still lacks a suitable refueling infrastructure to back up the vehicles--but as with battery-electric technology, small, consistent improvements will make it more and more viable.

Could this cost reduction be the largest advancement yet for the future of fuel cells?


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Comments (6)
  1. The problem is the overall eff isn't really better than a good ICE so unless they can cut the many loses like pumps, etc they never talk about along with replacing costly metals.

    The only viable are small 3-20kw units used as range extenders in EV's. Building a 100-200kw FC is never going to be cost effective. Since ICE's run at peak power on NG are more eff overall at a few % of the FC price means they won't be competitive.

  2. That may solve the fuel cell problem, how about the hydrogen economy part? ....btw, last time I checked, you can't do regenerative braking with fuel cell..

  3. Every fuel cell vehicle is a hybrid--they have a battery at the output to provide bursts of power and absorb braking energy. I agree with the other posters that the best place for a fuel cell is as a low-power range-extender alongside a good-sized plug-in-rechargeable battery pack. Of course, until there are hydrogen refueling points, it won't be much comfort.

  4. Just curious, what makes a fuel cell car a "hybrid"?

    What is your definition of "hybrid"?

    Is BEV a hybrid too? Since it has a chemical energy storage/converter, aka battery and an electric power train.

    A fuel cell is a chemical energy converter. It converts the chemical energy to electric energy. In a big block diagram way, it is the same as battery.

    So, what is really a hybrid vs. an EV?

  5. No.


  6. I'd certainly prefer a fuel cell solution over a range extender ICE any day.

    With EV charging stations being so much cheaper than hydrogen filling stations, it still seems like a stretch.

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