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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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By lifeson22 on 8/12/2010 3:26:19 AM , Rating: 2
Agreed. The production of hydrogen from hydrocarbons only replaces one energy carrier with another. Worst of all, it causes energy *losses* because of inefficiencies associated with the conversion process. Cute.

It is true that deriving hydrogen from hydrocarbons provides a cradle for the still-developing PEM (proton-exchange membrane) fuel cells, which require a fuel capable ofr providing hydrogen cores (the protons) - especially since the vast majority of all hydrogen produced today from cheap and well developed processes involving hydrocarbons.

The idea of taking hydrocarbons or water and producing hydrogen at the expense of an energy deficit (we *lose* energy in the process) is acceptable to create a portable energy carrier for mobile applications that suffer from inadequate power technologies (e.g. batteries for electronic devices which must be constantly recharged).

But what's the point of taking our well-developed internal combustion engines, replacing them with PEM fuel cells that suffer from serious durability and reliability problems (including a very high sensitivity to poisoning to minute ammounts of impurities like sulfur or carbon monoxide) - then take well-proven hydrocarbon fuels and *spend* energy to extract hydrogen for use in PEM fuel cells?

I love the fuel cell technology, and the advances being made are very axciting. But please, let's make some sense here - WHAT are we gaining by replacing internal engine cars with expensive fuel cells that don't last as long, and taking our already expensive oil and replacing it with more expensive hydrogen (more expensive because you must take the hydrocarbons, and then input some extra energy to extract the hydrogen - it can't be cheaper than the hydrocarbons themselves).

Yet nobody talks about this. Cute.

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