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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 Solandri on 8/3/2010 3:59:24 PM , Rating: 3
It's not that it isn't simple - it's almost trivial to break water into hydrogen and oxygen. You can do it with some batteries, two wires, and a cup of water.

The problem is that each chemical molecule has a certain amount of energy potential. Water has a very low potential. So when you combine hydrogen with oxygen to make water, they drop to that low potential and release a lot of energy in the process.

But to do it in reverse, you have to add energy. The amount of energy you need to add to water to break it up into hydrogen and oxygen exceeds the amount of energy you get by burning them to create water again. So unless you have a cheap and abundant source of electrical energy (e.g. nuclear), there is no point cracking water into hydrogen and oxygen. You're better off just using the energy needed for the process directly.

Molecules of petroleum and methane store hydrogen at a much higher energy state. Their energy state is much closer to pure hydrogen than to water. So you add a little bit of energy to them to break off the hydrogen, then combine that with oxygen in the air to create water. The energy released in the second step is a lot more than the energy you used in the first step, so the net result is a large amount of energy released.

RE: Meh...
By tng on 8/3/2010 6:20:13 PM , Rating: 2
I know that Honda was tinkering with a home refueling station. This was part of the FCX Clarity project where they were leasing 300(?) of the fuel cell vehicles in the So Cal area where there are a handful of hydrogen refueling stations located at standard Shell gas stations.

Plug it in, add water, push start and after a certain amount of time you have enough hydrogen to fill your tank. Great thing to have in your garage IMO. If your electricity is cheap this is an alternative, but I would not call it green by a long shot, but still you don't have the exhaust emissions of an ICE from it so it is still greener than nothing.

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