New Combination of Materials Makes Fuel Cells More Efficient and Durable


The promise of fuel cells as a clean-burning alternative to fossil fuels is highly attractive, but to reach their full potential, the internal components of fuel cells need to be more durable and less expensive. Catalysts inside fuel cells require a support structure that provides a base for electrical conductivity and permits an even distribution of the catalyst on the support. Current technology employs either a metal oxide or a type of carbon (e.g., graphene) as a support structure for catalysts such as platinum; however, platinum atoms tend to clump on carbon supports and to be unevenly distributed on metal oxide supports. Using both experimental and supercomputing capabilities at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), a scientific user facility in Richland, WA, a team of scientists from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Princeton University, and Washington State University not only created a new combination of platinum and support structure materials, but they demonstrated that with the new materials the catalyst was about 40% more efficient and the support structure was three times more durable and resistant to corrosion than currently used materials. By integrating EMSL’s experimental and computational capabilities, this research team was able to create and test a new material that has significant potential for improving the longevity of fuel cells and for reducing their cost. This research was supported by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.


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