Although hydrogen fuel is a promising alternative to fossil fuels, the catalyst it relies on for power generation is mainly composed of rare and expensive metal platinum, which limits the wide commercialization of hydrogen fuel. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles reported a way to enable them to meet and exceed the goals set by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for high catalyst performance, high stability, and low platinum utilization.
The record-breaking technique uses tiny crystals of platinum-cobalt alloy, each embedded in a nano-bag made of graphene.
Compared with the DOE catalyst standard, graphene-coated alloys produced extraordinary results: 75 times higher catalytic activity; 65% higher power; about 20% higher catalytic activity at the end of the fuel cell's expected life; about 35% lower power loss after 7000 hours of simulated use of 6000 ran, exceeding the target of 5000 hours for the first time; and almost 40% less platinum needed per car.
Graphene-coated alloys produced extraordinary results: 75 times higher catalytic activity and 65% higher power. At the end of the expected life of the fuel cell, the catalytic activity increased by about 20%, and the power loss was reduced by about 35% after 7000 hours of simulated use, exceeding the target of 5000 hours for the first time.
Today, half of the world's total supply of platinum and similar metals is used in catalytic converters for fossil fuel-powered cars, which can reduce the harmfulness of their emissions. Each car needs 2 Mel and 8 grams of platinum. By contrast, current hydrogen fuel cell technology consumes about 36 grams of platinum per vehicle. At the minimum platinum load tested by the research team, only 6.8 grams of platinum were needed for each hydrogen-powered vehicle.
So how do researchers get more energy from less platinum? They decomposed the platinum-based catalyst into particles with an average length of 3 nanometers. Smaller particles mean a larger surface area and more room for catalytic activity. However, smaller particles tend to squeeze together to form larger particles.
The team solved this limitation by loading their catalyst particles into the 2D material graphene. Compared with the bulk carbon commonly found in coal or pencil lead, this thin carbon layer has amazing capacity, conducts electricity and heat efficiently, and is 100 times stronger than steel of similar thickness.
Their platinum-cobalt alloy is reduced to particles. Before being integrated into fuel cells, these particles are surrounded by graphene nano-bags, which also act as an anchor to prevent particle migration, which is necessary for the level of durability required for commercial vehicles. At the same time, graphene allows a tiny gap of about 1 nanometer around each catalyst nanoparticles, which means that critical electrochemical reactions may occur.
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