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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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Hydrogen derived from hydrocarbons....
By 7Enigma on 8/3/2010 10:42:20 AM , Rating: 5
To me this discovery as it pertains to using hydrocarbons is a complete waste of time. The purpose of hydrogen fuel cell development should *ONLY* be to derive it from non-usable sources of normal combustion.

You want to make hydrogen from water....great.

You want to make hydrogen from air....fine.

But when you take a readily available fuel and decrease overall efficiency by converting it to another form of energy you've got to be off your rocker.

This idea makes corn-based ethanol look smart....and that is a very hard thing to do.

RE: Hydrogen derived from hydrocarbons....
By trisct on 8/3/2010 10:48:56 AM , Rating: 4
Well said. While the science may be useful elsewhere, the overall goal here is apparently to allow an oil company to claim some kind of leadership position in producing HYDROGEN fuel.

Unless the hydrogen is trapped underground with oil, and would go to waste otherwise, this is a monumentally dumb idea, although not quite as bad as turning food into fuel on a large scale.

RE: Hydrogen derived from hydrocarbons....
By tng on 8/3/2010 11:03:29 AM , Rating: 5
Unless the hydrogen is trapped underground with oil, and would go to waste otherwise, this is a monumentally dumb idea, although not quite as bad as turning food into fuel on a large scale.

The most used way of getting hydrogen is by using natural gas. Normally, yes, allot of the oil wells out there also produce large quantities of natural gas so you are right in one sense, it is just down there with the oil in allot of cases.

Since natural gas is mainly just methane, it can be harvested from other sources, sewage treatment plants, landfills, dairy farms.... the list could go on for a long time. I don't see this as that much of an issue of where it comes from, just that it is cleaner to use. I drive by a sewage treatment plant everyday here in CA where there is a burner going all the time to dispose of methane that is a byproduct of the treatment process. No one is using this gas for a useful purpose.

Also many companies out there produce NG cars that are almost zero emissions now (and have for years). Problem is I don't really see many of the self righteous enviros out there taking advantage of this. They want to be clean, but mainly they just want to tear down big oil.

RE: Hydrogen derived from hydrocarbons....
By Dr of crap on 8/3/2010 12:51:36 PM , Rating: 1
As to the two posters above - that is my point!
Why use oil / natural gas to make hydrogen to use in fuel cell cars, when the idea behind fuel cell cars is to REDCUCE our depense on oil!?
If there is no good way to come up with hydrogen then it is a lost idea. ( for now )
Now the use of natural gas to power our cars is something I can't understand why it isn't being pushed harder.
Cars could also be running on the methane from the garabe dumps as well, as to the poster above. Natural gas is plentiful, and the infrastruture is there. Seems to me to be the next best thing to use to get off oil, not hydrogen! After all the US has a lot of natrual gas reserves.

By homebredcorgi on 8/3/2010 1:41:00 PM , Rating: 2
"when the idea behind fuel cell cars is to REDCUCE our depense on oil!?"

Maybe that isn't the only reason?

For one, the USA sits on the largest stock of natural gas in the world (by far) and the hydrogen can be extracted from it.

RE: Hydrogen derived from hydrocarbons....
By JediJeb on 8/3/2010 2:54:32 PM , Rating: 3
One reason to use petroleum for the hydrogen source is that instead of the 30-35% efficiency you get from burning it in a normal combustion engine, I believe using it for a source of hydrogen for a fuel cell you jump up to over 60% efficiency, though I may be totally wrong. But if that is correct then it would make a lot of sense to use the petroleum in a fuel cell as you would need less of it to do the same amount of work.

RE: Hydrogen derived from hydrocarbons....
By Solandri on 8/3/2010 4:29:04 PM , Rating: 5
This is correct. Burning petroleum in a combustion engine, you're limited by the Carnot efficiency. The maximum energy you can extract is 1 - Tc/Th where Tc is the cold temperature of your heat sink (usually the air for cars), and Th is the high temperature of your engine. For most automobile applications, this puts you around 30% engine efficiency. That is, 30% of the energy in the fuel goes into doing work, the other 70% just creates waste heat.

Fuel cells bypass this by converting the energy directly to electricity instead. They can frequently achieve 60% efficiency, with some fuel cells in the lab hitting over 80% efficiency.

By Etsp on 8/4/2010 3:39:49 AM , Rating: 2
There are some caveats to that as well... That formula assumes that the cooling system itself does not produce energy. Which is true in the vast majority of cases. However, there are means to derive electrical or kinetic energy that also act to cool the engine.

Two examples would be water injection, and peltier plates. Granted, these two methods aren't used much at all, but that doesn't mean there aren't ways to improve the efficiency of an ICE beyond that temperature difference barrier. It would require innovation on the cooling systems, but it's very possible. As far as how practical this is... well, at least it's more practical than some ideas being subsidized.

By namechamps on 8/5/2010 8:38:04 AM , Rating: 1
Exactly and natural gas in a fuel cells is roughly 2x to 3x as efficient as in the average internal combustion vehicle.

Thus natural gas as fuel source + fuel cells will power more vehicles and last longer than internal combustion.

Internal Combustion Engines (otto cycle) are horrible inefficient. 80%+ of potential energy (tank to wheel not just engine efficiency) is wasted as heat.

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.

By Jedi2155 on 8/4/2010 4:08:20 AM , Rating: 2
A huge issue with electrolysis is that I've heard quotes of it taking nearly 60 KW/hrs of electricity to create one kilogram of usable hydrogen which has the equivalent energy density of 1 gallon of gas.

The Tesla roadster has a range of 240 miles with a 53 KWhr battery +/- 100 miles depending on your driving habits. Battery technology is far more efficient than hydrogen will ever be IMO.

By owyheewine on 8/3/2010 10:30:18 AM , Rating: 3
If the problem with fuel cells is a high concentration of CO in hydrogen produced from hydrocarbons, why don't we just bypass the hydrogen production step and just use the hydrocarbons for energy?

RE: Wondering
By topkill on 8/3/2010 10:39:43 AM , Rating: 3
Hey, don't get all logical on us now.

We're having fun playing with our totally unrealistic new toys that will cost trillions when we deploy the new hydgroden infrastructure!!!

RE: Wondering
By spread on 8/3/2010 5:27:47 PM , Rating: 2
Because you have to burn the hydrocarbons. There is research being done into making gasoline fuel cells a reality.

So far, they're ridiculously expensive to make.

RE: Wondering
By namechamps on 8/5/10, Rating: 0
Hardly call it a breakthrough
By trisct on 8/3/2010 10:43:58 AM , Rating: 2
More of an incremental step in materials science, useful for a small percentage of possible fuel sources for an experimental product.

We hear about breakthrough discoveries in energy production almost every day. None of them are more than incremental improvements. A breakthrough is supposed to be a revolutionary discovery that will result in lasting change - I doubt this is ever going to excite many people outside of oil company laboratories.

By MastermindX on 8/3/2010 1:04:29 PM , Rating: 3
New catalyst is 2000 times more tolerant of carbon monoxide

A breakthrough is any improvement that is order of magnitude larger than regular improvements.

For exemple, according the Moore's law:
The number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit double approximately every two years

So, if a new process allows to, let say, multiply by 100 every 2 years, that would be breakthrough.

Now, I don't know what kind of improvement research on catalyst yields, but I'd be really surprised to see anything higher than 2-3 times better. Certainly nowhere near the 2000 times better stated on this. So yes, as far as I'm concerned, this is breakthrough.

It's not because you don't care about a discovery it shouldn't be called a breakthrough.

By Lawrence Weisdorn on 8/3/2010 3:14:15 PM , Rating: 2
This is definitely a breakthrough and an important one at that. The main cause of fuel cell efficiency deterioration and life expectancy is contaminants. A fuel cell operating around other gas or diesel powered vehicles will be subjected to CO. If the fuel cell is now substantially more tolerant of the environment that it needs to operate in, that is a breakthrough.

By DougF on 8/3/10, Rating: -1
RE: Meh...
By Dr of crap on 8/3/10, Rating: 0
RE: Meh...
By Dr of crap on 8/3/2010 10:26:17 AM , Rating: 1
Why are we getting the hydrogen from oil??????
How about fixing the probem of getting hydrogen from water.

We'd fill the tank with water,
the car would make the hydrogen on the spot
and run the fuel cell - simple no?

RE: Meh...
By wushuktl on 8/3/2010 10:40:58 AM , Rating: 2
i'm guessing it's not that simple and there will probably be some intermediate steps before something like that could be achieved.

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.

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).

RE: Meh...
By twhittet on 8/3/2010 11:00:30 AM , Rating: 2
Maybe if there were a magically small and efficient way of producing hydrogen from water.

If there was at least a large, but magically efficient way of converting, it would be viable to "fill up" like normal gas stations.

Since neither of these really exist yet, I'm not too excited.

RE: Meh...
By OnyxNite on 8/3/2010 12:25:12 PM , Rating: 3
You seem to have the whole concept backwards.

Hydrogen + Oxygen = Energy + Water

What you want is energy to run your car. So you need to provide Hydrogen and Oxygen. Just so happens there is enough Oxygen in the air that we get that for free. So we need Hydrogen for fuel to combine with the oxygen to get the energy (and water).

If your goal is to get energy to run the car and you have water that does you no good. To get hydrogen from the water you need energy and if you have an energy source to split the water then why the heck don't you just power your car with THAT energy source?

RE: Meh...
By nstott on 8/3/2010 1:46:16 PM , Rating: 2
No, not simple. Then your net energy would be zero at best, and your car would not move, because the energy required to break water apart is at best equal to the energy released when it recombines if you have 100% efficiency.

Believe it or not, there was a group at Samsung selling such an idea to the upper management, and they were buying into it. They kept that dog and pony show rolling for a couple of years to keep the funding coming in until management noticed that the technology wasn't going anywhere. I was surprised at how stupid company execs can be with regards to basic scientific laws, and many of them have advanced engineering degrees.

As far as using water to generate hydrogen, there are some working on using solar energy to do so to sea water as a way to "store" solar power in the form of hydrogen.

RE: Meh...
By marvdmartian on 8/3/2010 3:16:22 PM , Rating: 2
Just give me a few years to perfect my design on my Mr Fusion, and your wish will be granted! ;)

RE: Meh...
By namechamps on 8/5/2010 8:42:59 AM , Rating: 2
No water isn't a fuel source.

Electrolysis: Water + ENERGY = Hydrogen + oxygen
Fuel Cell: Hydrogen + Oxygen = ENERGY + Water.

See the problem?

Combined the "equations"
Water + ENERGY = Hydrogen + Oxygen = Energy + water

Now simplify
Water = Water

The energy produced in fuel cell (if 100% efficient) is exactly equal to the energy required to split water. With a perfect fuel cells you "car" would never move. It would simply convert a tank of water into water vapor with 0 watts of excess energy.

However in the real world fuel cells are more like 50%-60% efficient so it wouldn't even do that.

RE: Meh...
By tng on 8/3/2010 10:35:59 AM , Rating: 3
reduce the CO2 to 2% and whether that becomes economically viable.
I am not sure if you read the article right. They are not concerned with Carbon Di oxide, it is Carbon Mon oxide they want below 2% in the fuel.

I look at this as what will really be the alternative to EVs which have issues, have always had issues and probably will continue to have issues for most people.

While cars like the Volt and the Leaf get allot of print from a press that knows no better, they have serious limitations.

Since there is already an existing infrastructure of gas and diesel stations out there, it makes sense to turn these to include hydrogen as well and take advantage of the in place logistics that are there.

I know that there are a bunch of you out there who ignore such practicalities as this, but to have any chance of any of these emissions reduction vehicles like this out there and in mass use, this is what will have to happen.

Also I have noted a tendency on the part of may here to want to just tear down Big Oil, no matter what. Even if it is at the cost of a real solution. In the end we will need the infrastructure that Big Oil has put in to make this work. Even if it is just a pure EV it would still make sense to use a regular gas station as a quick charge stop.

In answer to your last statement, if the current rate of development is continued and the existing gas stations are converted to Hydrogen, this could start to happen within 5-10 years, in my opinion.

RE: Meh...
By OnyxNite on 8/3/2010 11:40:00 AM , Rating: 1
A) "The researchers say this is very important because hydrogen derived from petroleum has a high concentration of carbon monoxide in it."

Apparently they intend to use petroleum filling stations and get the hydrogen from the petroleum.
B) The new catalyst allows up to 2% CO while the current ones require much less so it will be less costly to reduce the CO to 2% then it would be to reduce it to 0% as they currently do.

RE: Meh...
By spinaltap11 on 8/3/2010 1:09:19 PM , Rating: 2
Don't forget that it doesn't explain if global warming is real or if bigfoot really exists!

What is the point of making such an inane comment? The scope of the research described in the article is purely restricted to manufacturing processes.

BTW, Carbon MONOXIDE is CO, not CO2.

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