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Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell vehicle  (Source: DailyTech)
New catalyst is 2000 times more tolerant of carbon monoxide

The quest for alternative fuel sources that are cleaner, cheaper, and more abundant than traditional fossil fuels is underway around the world. Researchers are studying everything from battery power to solar energy and fuel cells.

Fuel cells hold great promise and have long been studied as alternatives to fossil fuels. Traditionally, the problems plaguing fuel cell-powered vehicles that run from hydrogen include how to produce the hydrogen cheaply and how to store it safely. Despite issues that still surround fuel cell-powered vehicles, a study conducted in June by Pike Research found that within the next decade 670,000 fuel cell powered vehicles would be sold each year.

Researchers at the Cornell University Energy Materials Center have made a breakthrough discovery that will make hydrogen fuel cell power much more economical. The breakthrough comes in the form of a new catalyst that uses platinum nanoparticles. Platinum is traditionally used in fuel cells as the catalyst, but platinum is expensive and can be easily deactivated in the presence of even low levels of carbon monoxide rendering the fuel cell inoperable.

The Cornell researchers have discovered a method of making the platinum catalyst able to withstand thousands of times more carbon monoxide. The process also makes the platinum catalyst material much cheaper to produce. The team created the catalyst using platinum nano particles that are deposited on a support material of titanium oxide. The team then added tungsten to increase the electrical conductivity of the catalyst. The resulting platinum catalyst is 2,000 times more resistant to carbon monoxide than a catalyst using pure platinum. 

That higher resistance to carbon monoxide means that the fuel cell can burn hydrogen with as much as 2% carbon monoxide in it. The researchers say this is very important because hydrogen derived from petroleum has a high concentration of carbon monoxide in it. The ability for the catalyst to withstand more carbon monoxide eliminates the need to clean the hydrogen as much, thereby reducing the cost of making hydrogen.

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RE: Meh...
By tng on 8/3/2010 10:44:47 AM , Rating: 2
So far, the process for "cracking" hydrogen from water is still a very energy intensive process and there is basically no gain from doing it this way.

I believe that now the most efficient way that is being used is by using natural gas.

The promise here is not weening ourselves off of hydrocarbons, but reducing the emissions from the tailpipe. A hydrogen fuel cell produces water as a by product.

The reason that this is important is that it makes the process of making hydrogen from any source less energy intensive by letting the fuel cell use hydrogen that is less pure. It also will help with the reliability of fuel cells

RE: Meh...
By jimhsu on 8/3/2010 11:49:40 AM , Rating: 2
There is really no point in producing hydrogen by electrolysis of water in a car because the net energy gain is at most zero (according to the laws of thermodynamics). The only setting in where electrolysis makes sense is possibly mass production of hydrogen in a centralized facility coupled to an efficient power source (nuclear, renewables, etc) - in which case you're back to square one. Otherwise, people derive hydrogen from fossil fuels because there is a gain of energy (relative to the amount of energy you have to expend to obtain the hydrogen).

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