New process for fuel cells

A partnership between Volkswagen and Stanford University in the United States has resulted in the development a new process for fuel cells.

One of the biggest cost drivers for fuel cells is the use of the precious metal platinum. Platinum is required as a catalyst to operate the fuel cell. The material is distributed as particles on carbon powder. However, the desired catalytic process only takes place on the surface of the platinum particles, which wastes large quantities of the cost-intensive material.

In a process newly developed by Volkswagen and Stanford University, platinum atoms are specifically placed on a carbon surface to produce extremely thin particles. This can reduce the amount of platinum required to a fraction of the current amount. This increases the efficiency of the newly-developed fuel cell catalyst by a factor of three compared to current technology, while at the same time increasing its durability.

Professor Prinz of Stanford University said, ‘This technology opens up enormous possibilities for cost reduction, as the amount of precious metal used is minimised. At the same time, service life and catalyst performance are increased. In addition to the fuel cell, atomic layer deposition also offers a whole range of other applications requiring high-performance materials, such as next-generation lithium-ion batteries.’

The fuel cell has great potential in emission-free mobility. In terms of efficiency, range and refuelling times, cars with fuel cells are comparable to conventional combustion engines. However, the vehicle only gives off water and heat as emissions.

Due to the comparatively high production costs, the fuel cell is currently still a niche product. However, with the help of the new catalyst technology, the economic efficiency would increase enormously. This would make the fuel cell a real alternative to battery-powered drives and the classic combustion engine.