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Researchers discovered ideal particles size for catalyst inside a fuel cell

Researchers are working hard to develop hydrogen fuel cells as a viable method of powering automobiles. The problem with this type of fuel cell at this point is that the storage of hydrogen is difficult and the fuel cells don’t last as long as manufacturers would like.

Two scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have made an important stride in making hydrogen fuel cell vehicles more viable. The two scientists -- Professor Dane Morgan and PhD student Edward Holby -- have designed a computational model that can optimize one of the most important components of a fuel cell, possibly leading to a longer usable life.

The computational model is being used to investigate how the particle size of a material relates to the overall stability of the material. The researchers are using the model to look at the most efficient and effective particle size for the catalyst inside the fuel cell.

The fuel cell catalyst is typically made from platinum or platinum alloy. The catalyst is used to aid the reaction between the protons, electronics, and oxygen at the cathode inside the cell. Platinum is able to withstand the corrosive fuel cell environment but is costly and not available in abundance.

Platinum particles used inside current fuel cell catalysts are as small as two nanometers across. The tiny particles offer enough surface area for the reaction, but are quickly destroyed and degrade rapidly. The degradation of the catalyst means that the fuel cell doesn't last long. The Department of Energy figures that a fuel cell needs to last for 7 months of continuous use for automotive needs.

The computational model developed by the pair has shown that the ideal particle size for the catalyst is about 20 atoms across, roughly twice as large as the particles inside fuel cells today. At the 20-atom size, the particles degrade much slower and allow the fuel cell to function significantly longer.

Morgan likens the stability of larger particles to cheese, "When you leave a large chunk of cheese out and the edges get crusty, the surface is destroyed, but you can cut that off and there is still a lot of cheese inside that is good. But if you crumble the cheese into tiny pieces and leave it out, you destroy all of your cheese because a larger fraction of the cheese is at the surface."

Another group of researchers made a breakthrough in July with the potential to make storing hydrogen for fuel cells more efficient.

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By miniMUNCH on 9/18/2009 11:48:27 PM , Rating: 2
Okay... this article is basically cut and pasted from eurekalert and the original article appears to be authored by the professor who's work the article is about, yet it is not written in the first person.

That being said... despite the article being written by a professor, there are some significant errors and/or half truths in the article, which I'm not gonna bother pointing out for him.

I'm a PhD chemical engineer and I work in nanocatalysis... right now I'm working on (you guessed it) Pt catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells. degradation mechanisms are well understood for Pt fuel cell catalysts, in general, and several solutions, that work experimentally and not just in theory, have already been reported in peer reviewed journals (which the guy from Madison obviously did not bother to recognize).

This is piece of shit technical journalism to say the least... but when it comes to actual science on dailytech this seems to be par for the course.

By drmo on 9/19/2009 9:31:28 AM , Rating: 2
Well, the release on the Wisonsin page says that it is written by Sandra Knisely ( ), so it was not written by the professor. If you know anything about how these things are released, then you would know that they are generally written by the University publicists. They are basically newspaper articles, so the fact that they don't mention other people's work is not surprising. It is not a scientific article, just a short article to showcase a researcher's work.

As far as the work, it isn't unusual at all for a computational researcher to come out with a new model for a reaction (or whatever) that does not agree completely with previous models (or even the experimental data).

But I do think they should hold off reporting these things before they have anything in the peer-reviewed literature to back it up. I am sure that once it is published, they will have plenty of references for perusal.

By drmo on 9/19/2009 9:37:35 AM , Rating: 2
Oops, looks like the paper is out:

I don't have access to the full article though...

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