Some automakers want to get serious about bringing hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles to market if a big wall can be climbed – the one that puts the cost of H2 vehicles out of reach for some OEMs and at least $50,000 for others. That number could slide down thanks to researchers from South Korea, Case Western University and University of North Texas who have discovered an inexpensive and easily produced catalyst that could replace pricey platinum, the catalyst for the required oxygen-reduction reactions.

A metal-free catalyst can do the trick, the researchers say. During testing, a cathode coated with graphene nanoparticles edged with iodine turned out to be more efficient in oxygen reduction reaction. It can also generate 33 percent more current than a cathode coated with platinum can create.

"We made metal-free catalysts using an affordable and scalable process," Liming Dai, a professor of macromolecular science and engineering at Case WesternReserve and one of the report's authors, told Phys.org. "The catalysts are more stable than platinum catalysts and tolerate carbon monoxide poisoning and methanol crossover."

The researchers are looking at methanol as one of the sources for electrons to powering fuel cell vehicles, which is not unusual. Methanol is interesting to engineers and scientists as an alternative fuel, but faces similar refueling obstacles in the real world, just like hydrogen.


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  • 44 Comments
      Giza Plateau
      • 1 Year Ago
      Still wont matter BUT if a cheap reliable fuel cell system could be made to run on liquid fuels it could catch on very quickly. Which might not be a good thing. So let's hope they stick to hydrogen :)
        mycommentemail
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Giza Plateau
        I'm assuming you are not on board with liquid fuels because they are less democratic than electricity. Specifically, if you install solar panels on top of your house you will be generating your own electricity. If we stick to liquid fuels (even Hydrogen) we will then still be forced to use filling stations. There is a point to that. Still, if these fuel cells start to catch on (a HUGE "IF") then it is conceivable that they would find themselves being installed in homes, and the liquid fuel (methanol if the article is to be believed) pumped to the home instead of sending electricity via copper wires. There is already a precedent for pumping liquid fuel to homes (natural gas for cooking and heating across much of the U.S.) and this infrastructure could mimic that. Once that happens, you would still fill up at home. That said, the time frame to build out such a system would most likely be so long that battery technology (and, yes, lightening cars) would catch up to the point that it might pretty much be moot.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 1 Year Ago
          @mycommentemail
          Hydrogen can be safely transported in natural gas lines, and then separated at the destination, either at home or a refueling station. That's how the Germans plan to move it around.
        otiswild
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Giza Plateau
        Why not? Gas infrastructure is already there, and using it more efficiently via on-board reformulation or compatible solid-oxide fuel cells to power a purely-electric drivetrain would be a good thing in and of itself. Hydrocarbon-powered SOFCs IMO are the ideal transition technology, if we can get one of suitable size and power density mobile, and with efficiencies of 60+ percent.
      DaveMart
      • 1 Year Ago
      'Methanol is interesting to engineers and scientists as an alternative fuel, but faces similar refueling obstacles in the real world, just like hydrogen. ' Only in the world of ABG 'informative articles'. Methanol is a liquid at room temperature, and is easily transportable and requires no compression in the station or expensive carbon fibre tanks in the vehicle. I am one of those who thinks that the difficulties of using hydrogen can be overcome for usage where batteries don't pan out, but methanol would be much easier to use.
      pmpjunkie01
      • 1 Year Ago
      @EZEE: but the Farakarma Model S is more expensive than a Trabant, so obviously only dirty rich hippies want to buy it!
      Dave
      • 1 Year Ago
      "Some battery EV enthusiasts state that a BEV has three to four times the energy efficiency of a fuel cell EV..... But we need to take into account the entire fuel cycle, not just the efficiency of the vehicle itself. The total system efficiencies will depend on the source of fuel for hydrogen and electricity. We have analyzed three generic fuel sources: fossil fuels such as natural gas, or coal; biomass, and intermittent renewables such as wind or solar energy. Converting either natural gas or biomass to hydrogen is more efficient than converting natural gas or biomass to electricity. The well-to-wheels total system efficiency is higher for the fuel cell EV than the battery EV as follows, when each vehicle is designed for 250 miles range: •With natural gas as the source, the FCEV is 28% to 92% more efficient than a BEV •With coal as the source, the FCEV is 44% more efficient than a BEV •With biomass as the source, the FCEV is also 44% more efficient than a BEV On the other hand, the well-to-wheels efficiency is higher for the battery EV than the fuel cell EV for intermittent renewables such as wind or solar that produce electricity directly; in this case the FCEV must absorb the losses inherent in converting renewable electricity to hydrogen: •With wind energy as the source, the BEV system is 67% more efficient than a FCEV system. (Still not a factor of three or four!)" http://www.cleancaroptions.com/html/energy_efficiency.html
        Jesse Gurr
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Dave
        I think these calculations should be taken with a grain of salt. If you look at the FCV and BEV efficiency flow chart, and look backwards, the numbers don't mesh with what it should be. BEV: (250 miles* 0.363 kwh/mi) / (.915*.867*.94*.90*.96) = 140.8 kWh from the grid where the chart indicates 111.5 kWh Same with the FCV, hydrogen energy, if you work backwards, shows as about 173 kWh, not 137 kWh shown. I am thinking they didn't check their numbers.
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Dave
        To make 100km a FCEV requires 1kg of H2. 1kg of H2 = 33kwh of energy. To make 100km a BEV requires 15kwh of energy. To produce 1kg of compressed H2 from H2O, we need 60kwh of energy. 4 times more, no matter what source of energy you use and the efficiency achieved producing that energy. Oh, you use Natural Gas instead H2O as source for the H2. 80% efficiency for Natural Gas reforming plus compress the H2: 45kwh per kg of H2. 3 times the energy consumed by an BEV. Math 1, Lies 0
          • 1 Year Ago
          Dave, you need 60kwh of electric energy to produce 1kg of compressed hydrogen from electrolysis. (Air Lyquide says) So... A FCEV requires MUCH MUCH MUCH MORE than 60 kwh of energy to travel 100km. Most of the energy leaves through the stack of the power plant. Much of it leaves as heat from transformers, wires, and chargers. Yeah, the plan is to use hydrogen from reformed Natural Gas, where yours numbers play well. But Natural Gas is the same old song played with other instruments. :)
          Dave
          • 1 Year Ago
          Maybe if you actually read the link you will begin to understand it. A BEV requires MUCH MUCH MUCH MORE than 15 kwh of energy to travel 100km. Most of the energy leaves through the stack of the power plant. Much of it leaves as heat from transformers, wires, and chargers. Only ~1/3 of it gets into the battery to be used.
        archos
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Dave
        The usual suspects all over this story like flies on s__t.
      2 wheeled menace
      • 1 Year Ago
      Oh no, i'm the one laughing since you don't know the difference between power density and energy density ;)... should have been obvious since i was talking about the fuel cell and not the hydrogen tank.. Oh, and there are EVs that have more than a hundred mile range. Maybe you should read a site called 'autoblog green' some time.
      Dave
      • 1 Year Ago
      This is interesting because the DOE estimates the mass produced cost of a fuel cell SYSTEM at $49 per kw. And less than half of that is the stack cost. http://www.hydrogen.energy.gov/pdfs/11012_fuel_cell_system_cost.pdf So, we're looking at ~$2,300 for a fuel cell stack. Remove ~700 worth of platinum, and the stack costs only $1,600. A rebuilt fuel cell stack that reuses the enclosure and possibly other non wear items may cost as little as $1,000. Current light duty vehicle stacks lose about 10% of their power after ~75,000 miles. So the life of the car could be stretched to 150,000 miles or more at a reasonable cost. (depending on how much peak power loss can be tolerated)
        Letstakeawalk
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Dave
        "Professor Zhongwei Chen is part of a team led by the Los Alamos National Laboratory looking to develop non-precious materials to replace the expensive platinum catalysts in fuel cells. “One of the biggest barriers to the adoption of fuel cells in vehicles is the cost of the units. The pure platinum needed for the catalysts in the cells contributes about 40 per cent of the total cost,” said Professor Chen, of Waterloo’s Faculty of Engineering. “Platinum is so expensive, and is obviously a limited resource, we have to find a way to replace it if fuel cell cars are going to succeed.” An average fuel cell car requires about 30 grams of pure platinum to produce enough power to make them run and will last for around 150,000 kilometres. That amount of platinum is around $4,000 at current prices. “Here at Waterloo we are using nanotechnology to create advanced non-precious alternatives for platinum that are a fraction of the cost of platinum and yet provide comparable durability,” said Professor Chen who is also a member of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology. “If we can find a suitable alternative to platinum, it could help pave the way for the motor industry to adopt hydrogen fuel cells for more than a million new vehicles by the end of the decade.” If there's $4000 worth of platinum in a typical FC stack, then that would imply that current stack costs are around $10,000 total. Add in BOP and storage costs (around $2-3k for a type IV carbon tank), and we start to get a realistic appraisal of what current FC powertrain costs are.
          Dave
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          "An average fuel cell car requires about 30 grams of pure platinum to produce enough power to make them run and will last for around 150,000 kilometres. That amount of platinum is around $4,000 at current prices." On page, 3, the report states that platinum loading was down to .19 grams per kw. http://www.hydrogen.energy.gov/pdfs/11012_fuel_cell_system_cost.pdf So, a 100 kw stack requires 19 grams. The price of one Troy ounce of platinum is about ~$1325. There are 31.1 grams in a Troy ounce. So $1325 x 19/31.1 = $809 worth of platinum. http://platinumprice.org/
          Dave
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          "The pure platinum needed for the catalysts in the cells contributes about 40 per cent of the total cost" $809 / .4 = $2022 Fairly consistent with the DOE number for stack cost ($22 per kw)
        Dave
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Dave
        Forgot to say - I'm assuming a 100 kw system, which is what Hyundai is producing.
          pmpjunkie01
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Dave
          Why would you ever want to build a 100kW system for a car? This could work as a range extender. From what I understand the dynamic response of fuel cells isn't that great and if you want to capture regenerative breaking energy you need batteries or another buffer anyways. If you build this as a 20-40kW system to sustain cruising speeds and combine it with a battery pack you could power 80-90% of driving with cheap electricity and the occasional road trip with alcohol. And if it runs on methanol it could help to get the silly hydrogen proposition out of the room.
        archos
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Dave
        Which explains the complete absence of mass produced FCVs after 30 years of talk! It must be true because I found a pdf on the internet!
      2 wheeled menace
      • 1 Year Ago
      33 percent more current? gee, these fuel cells might actually get non-laughable power density then. If the cost could go down significantly, then it would be worth exploring as a range extender for an EV.
        chechnya
        • 1 Year Ago
        @2 wheeled menace
        Non-laughable density.. like the less than 100 mile range of electric cars? Now that's laughable.
        DaveMart
        • 1 Year Ago
        @2 wheeled menace
        Dunno why you are obsessed with power density. For a fuel cell car it is nothing that a 1.5kwh or so buffer battery can't handle. Its an easy fix. That's not theory - there are fc cars on the road doing it.
        Letstakeawalk
        • 1 Year Ago
        @2 wheeled menace
        Nissan has one of the more power-dense fuel cells: ""We have made great strides in two critical areas: power density and cost. Our 2011-model fuel-cell stack delivers power density at 2.5 kilowatt-hrs per liter, 2.5 times better than our 2005 model. "As a result, the new stack is also a lot smaller. We can now pack 85 kilowatts of power in a 34-liter package. Better yet, we have brought the production cost down by 85 percent, close to meeting the U.S. Department of Energy cost target for 2010 - a widely referenced benchmark. "We slashed the price by reducing the need for platinum by 75 percent," Yanagisawa says. "The Membrane Electrode Assembly [MEA] comprises 80 percent of the stack's cost, and platinum is half the cost of an MEA, so this was a huge step forward." http://www.gizmag.com/nissan-doubles-power-density-with-new-fuel-cell-stack/20156/ Intelligent Energy has a stack that does a bit better: "London, March 26: Intelligent Energy today announced that its proprietary fuel cell technology is providing leading levels of power output and performance for a number of its automotive customers, with the company’s fuel cell stacks demonstrating continuous volumetric and gravimetric power densities of 3.7 kW/L and 2.5 kW/kg, respectively." http://www.intelligent-energy.com/about-us/media-room/news/company-news/2013/03/26/intelligent-energy-reports-highest-power-densities-yet-for-automotive-fuel-cells Anyone got the figures for a Tesla Model S? Just curious how it compares.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          "The ones that i've looked at to purchase were hilariously awful in their power output." I'm assuming you meant the types sold for science-fair demos? Current automotive fuel cells are quite powerful, so I'm not sure what "laughable power density" you were referring to.
          2 wheeled menace
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          I don't have figures for the Model S, but the power density of the batteries is particularly poor; though they are some of the highest energy cells you could possibly purchase. It's a pretty good compromise, since what you need in an EV is lots of range. You can go to the opposite end and favor power over energy - I have a 12 pound battery pack ( 0.8kw-hr ) that i have dumped out 10000W continuous from. An equivalent capacity of Tesla's battery would be about 9 pounds, and would only dump out roughly 1000W continuous. It's good that the power output of the fuel cells is improving. The ones that i've looked at to purchase were hilariously awful in their power output.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          "You can go to the opposite end and favor power over energy - I have a 12 pound battery pack ( 0.8kw-hr ) that i have dumped out 10000W continuous from." Sure but can you do that for any useful amount of time? Simply put, fuel cells have much greater power density than batteries. That's why they're smaller and lighter, while still having dramatically longer ranges. "...since what you need in an EV is lots of range." Funny of you to say that, when I've been told many times how range isn't a serious concern for BEVs due to their typical use cycles and the ability to recharge frequently and quickly.
        archos
        • 1 Year Ago
        @2 wheeled menace
        To be an acceptable range extender for EVs then (1) battery cost would have to come down (making the need for said range extender irrelevant) or (2) the fuel cells would have to be dirt cheap (eliminating the need for a EV anyway). Otherwise you're simply making EVs more expensive while throwing a new infrastructure-limited fuel into the mix. History and current market trends show scenario (1) is more likely, while scenario (2) is about as likely as a cold fusion range extender using bottled spring water.
      EZEE
      • 1 Year Ago
      I know there is one car,...forget the name....after an inventor... I think the car is the Faraday Model S. no wait...it's Mark Cuban's Company... The Edison Model S.... I know It is some Internet guy... I think ABG might have had an article or two in passing.
      Dave
      • 1 Year Ago
      Its not complicated. Fuel cells and hydrogen storage technology have progressed considerably. Still, the technology is more expensive than a standard ICE vehicle or gasoline hybrid. That is why they are not yet mass produced. As I said, the DOE estimates the cost of a fuel cell system at $49 per kw. However, the DOE cost goal, which would lead to approximate parity with a hybrid system, is $30 per kw. And we don't know what the cost goals of individual manufacturers is. All of this information is available in the document I posted.
      Jim
      • 1 Year Ago
      So will this lead to new non-metallic catalysts that can be used to make less expensive catalytic converters for the cars we currently own? I know, it's kind of an irrelevant question to the "green" issue, but it would be nice.
      Joeviocoe
      • 1 Year Ago
      Just another "distraction" dolled up to look like "progress". The amount of Platinum in Fuel Cells could certainly stand to be reduced by good R&D... but that never really was the 400 trillion pound Gorilla in the room. Regardless of the naysayers over the decades that complained that Fuel Cell stacks would always be TOO expensive because of the Platinum content. They have no sense of reality or history... this is the same mentality that would question EVs based on Lithium mining and/or "toxins in the batteries" as a permanent problem. Technological progress is always nice. This would be too. But let's not get it twisted, and let's not think for a second that Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicle are closer to market when news like this comes out. The real determining factor that will make Fuel Cell stacks cheap enough... is ECONOMIES OF SCALE! And they need an "Infrastructure of sufficient Density", according to Automakers... before they will commit to large volume FCVs.
        Letstakeawalk
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Joeviocoe
        Calm down, there's plenty of progress happening on all fronts, no need to get testy because this isn't the progress you think is most important. Just for fun, here's the winning submission for a recent contest sponsored by the DoE and the NREL, along with Mercedes and Toyota. No need to take it seriously, of course, just some college kids having fun with a thought experiment! "Development of a Hydrogen Production and Fueling Infrastructure in the Northeastern United States" http://www.hydrogencontest.org/pdf/2013/6%20Kyushu%20University%20-%20Final%20report.pdf
          Letstakeawalk
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          Well, the direct link didn't seem to work, so here's the list of all the winners: http://www.hydrogencontest.org/
          Letstakeawalk
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          I didn't refer to the contest as progress, I specifically called it "...some college kids having fun with a thought experiment!" But, yes, I do think you're being testy; I'm not trying to discredit any argument you make by stating my opinion of your mental state. However, your argument was that this specific article is: "Just another "distraction" dolled up to look like "progress". Clearly, that is simply your opinion. You don't think this article discussing metal-free catalysts is worthy of being considered progress, and clearly, many people disagree with you. Bringing down the overall cost of an automotive fuel cell stack is indeed a major challenge the automakers are hoping to overcome. We agree that infrastructure is indeed vital, but this article gives absolutely no information regarding that topic, while providing some very interesting info regarding a different area of concern. I even lightheartedly referred to your preferred topic, throwing you a bone... I'll repeat my original comment, and hope that you take it to heart: "Calm down, there's plenty of progress happening on all fronts, no need to get testy because this isn't the progress you think is most important." When we have more info regarding infrastructure projects, it will be very pleasurable to read your comments on the topic you so strongly express interest in. But, at the moment, we're talking about something else.
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          haha... there you go again. Your first words are "calm down". You persistently try to prove your argument by discrediting based on some notion of an emotional outburst. You cannot accurately engage in convincing argument... so you claim I am being "testy". Nice contest... how many H2 stations were actually built??? Yeah, thought so. You are counting designs on paper as "progress" now?
      Joeviocoe
      • 1 Year Ago
      News from Phys.org is generally VERY theoretical. And very speculative. They are a "News Blog" similar to ABG. They were reporting on Metal-Air batteries for a long while now. I would not hold my breath that anything will pan out here.
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