One of the drivers of the high cost of fuel cells right now is the need for platinum as a catalyst material. At the current price of just shy of $1,100 per ounce, the 100g of platinum required by a 100kW fuel cell accounts for about $3,500 of the cost. Researchers at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology have been working on alternative catalyst materials. They have built a fuel cell that uses nickel and molybdenum for the primary catalyst materials. Currently they are only using the new materials on the anode, with the cathode continuing to use platinum.
The new catalyst material is less efficient, only producing 10 percent of the electricity of an all platinum cell. However, the cost of making fuel cells with the new materials would only be 0.1 percent of current fuel cell designs. The group, led by Professor Masatoshi Nagai, is currently focusing on improving the efficiency to get the efficiency up to approximately 30 percent of a platinum-based fuel cell. Scientists at the Los Alamos National Lab (and undoubtedly many others around the world) are also working on new fuel cell catalyst designs.
[Source: Nikkei via GreenCarCongress]