Cheap metal-free catalyst could replace platinum in H2 fuel cells

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 "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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