Energy Daily reports that Michaela Burke Stevens, one of the senior authors on the study, stated that "hydrogen fuel cells have really great potential for energy storage and conversion, using hydrogen as an alternative fuel to, say, gasoline. But it's still fairly expensive to run a fuel cell."
The problem, according to her, is that fuel cells typically rely on catalysts which are made from expensive platinum group materials (PGM). Thus, she and her colleagues looked at alternative solutions with which to make the catalyst cheaper, without compromising on safety or performance. Finding the right materials can be a challenging task, as what may work in a lab often times won't perform that well in real-world applications.
The team of experts swapped the expensive PGM catalysts with those made from silver, but by doing so, they also had to modify the cell on a more complex scale, which meant replacing a special liquid with a vacuum chamber.
Collaborating with experts at Technion, the researchers were able to determine that this innovative technology could be reproduced and applied to full-scale commercial hydrogen fuel cells.
The two teams ultimately discovered that, by swapping expensive PGM catalysts with silver-made models, they were able to achieve the same effective performance, while lowering the end-product price tag significantly. Now, they plan on implementing even more ambitious ideas for a next-generation product.
"We could try going entirely PGM-free," said Tom Jaramillo, director of SUNCAT. Dario Dekel, a chemical engineering professor and director of the Grand Technion Energy Program at Technion, added that "this has great benefits for the research of fuel cells in the academy as well as for practical catalyst development in the fuel cell industry."