New Catalyst Could Turbocharge High-Performance Fuel Cells

Sustainable future is related to innovative engineering, one where elements are combined in unique combinations to solve problems.

Greener, more efficient cars continue to be one of the biggest spaces for innovative engineering and a new innovation in the field of fuel-cell technology has got our hopes high: it promises of zero-emission cars contributing to sustainable future for humanity.

The fuel cell technology industry has witnessed very slow developments because of a lack of technology that is needed to process oxygen at a faster speed – a necessary key to cracking the code of fueling the cells efficiently. The engineers at Georgia Institute of Technology recognized this lack and went on to develop a nanotechnology that could speed up the process of oxygen-induced fuelling with the help of a catalyst. The catalyst is capable of achieving the speed through a fuel cell system that causes the oxygen to flow easily. This development has got the attention of energy industry because it is clearly a game-changer. 

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"It can easily convert chemical fuel into electricity with high efficiency," said Meilin Liu, who led the study and is a Regents' Professor in Georgia Tech's School of Material Science and Engineering. "It can let you use readily available fuels like methane or natural gas or just use hydrogen fuel much more efficiently," Liu said.

"It's more than eight times as fast as state-of-the-art materials doing the same thing now," said Yu Chen, a postdoctoral research associate in Liu's lab and the study's first author.

"Praseodymium is in such very small amounts that it doesn't impact costs," Liu said. "And the catalyst saves lots of money on fuel and on other things."

"It's very conducive, very good, but the problem is that strontium undergoes a diminishment called segregation in the material," Liu said. "One component of our catalyst, PBCC, acts as a coating and keeps the LSCF a lot more stable."

The effective combination of cathode coating merged with the knowledge of rare metals has led to this innovation. In the first stage Praseodymium metal, one among rarely available metals on earth, along with barium go on to make the nanoparticles work. It was natural to wonder if this innovation was cost-efficient as Praseodymium is very expensive due to its rarity. 

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"Praseodymium is in such very small amounts that it doesn't impact costs," Liu said. "And the catalyst saves lots of money on fuel and on other things."

Moreover, this process also helps in lowering the temperature which eliminates the cost of expensive cooling materials and protective casings. The reduction in electrical resistance in fuel cell chemistry works a great deal in reducing the overall cost, undoubtedly.

Add to this equation, Calcium, and Cobalt and you have PBCC – a catalytic function that increases the life of fuel cell devices. 

Until now, the norm was lanthanum, strontium, cobalt, and iron (LSCF), but it has major drawbacks. 

"It's very conductive, very good, but the problem is that strontium undergoes a diminishment called segregation in the material," Liu said. "One component of our catalyst, PBCC, acts as a coating and keeps the LSCF a lot more stable."

Ultimately, the goal is to replace the LSCF cathode, which will happen in its own time, with the help of another catalyst which is under-development. We have got our eyes on this process, definitely. 

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