Researchers make progress on fuel cell catalyst efficiency

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Researchers from the Technical University of Munich in collaboration with other institutions throughout France and the Netherlands have revealed their findings on a new platinum-based catalyst for fuel cell applications.

The group says that the platinum catalyst, which helps produce oxygen as part of the fuel cell’s operation, is a key component of the engine, but that only a few particularly exposed areas of the platinum, the so-called active centers, are catalytically active.

The research set out to determine what makes particular areas of the catalyst active. The group says that a common method used in developing catalysts and in modeling the processes that take place on their surfaces is computer simulation, but as the number of atoms increases, quantum chemical calculations quickly become extremely complex.

The team has developed a new methodology, which it calls ‘coordination-activity plots’, to correlate geometric and adsorption properties. In order to validate the accuracy of their new methodology, the researchers computationally designed a new type of platinum catalyst for fuel cell applications. The model catalysts were prepared experimentally using three different synthesis methods. In all three cases, the catalysts showed up to three and a half times greater catalytic activity.

“This work opens up an entirely new way for catalyst development: the design of materials based on geometric rationales which are more insightful than their energetic equivalents,” says group scientist Federico Calle-Vallejo. “Another advantage of the method is that it is based clearly on one of the basic principles of chemistry: coordination numbers. This significantly facilitates the experimental implementation of computational designs.”

“With this knowledge, we might be able to develop nanoparticles that contain significantly less platinum or even include other catalytically active metals,” says Professor Aliaksandr S. Bandarenka, tenure track professor at the Technical University of Munich. “And in future we might be able to extend our method to other catalysts and processes, as well.”

The research was funded by the European Union’s Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Initiative, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, the German Research Council, the Cluster of Excellence Nanosystems Initiative Munich and Ruhr Explores Solvation, and the Helmholtz Energy Alliance.

October 20, 2015

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Dean has been with UKi Media & Events for over a decade, having previously cut his journalistic teeth writing and editing for various automotive and engineering titles. He combines extensive knowledge of all things automotive with a passion for driving, and experience testing countless new vehicles, engines and technologies around the world. As well as his role as editor-in-chief across a range of UKi's media titles, he is also co-chair of the judging panel of the International Engine of the Year Awards.

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