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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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RE: Shows some promise
By Triple Omega on 9/19/2009 10:01:22 AM , Rating: 2
1) I did read that nanowire article(I actually read far more about it months ago.), but a theoretical/experimental technology is not a fully developed technology. There is no way to know for sure how long it's actually going to take to get there in mass-production or if the promised numbers will be attainable at all. If it takes too long or isn't good enough in the end, hydrogen might be the only option.

2) Why are you assuming I forgot about charging at home? I actually said:
quote:
If the charge time isn't significantly reduced, people won't be able to make a quick recharging stop, which will effectively prevent them from choosing a destination beyond where one charge can take them.
Meaning they can charge at home, then drive to their destination and charge there, then drive back. They can't however drive further then where one charge will take them as recharging mid-travel will then be necessary and that will take unacceptably long.

3) Also you have to take industrial vehicles into account. They often cost a lot of money if they're doing nothing, so large capacity and quick charge is vital in this sector. The catch here is that the big money is in the industry, not the consumers. Meaning whichever side the industry choses will get a massive financial boost and likely be able to conquer the consumer market as well.


"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive

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