Trading platinum for iron could be the start of a hydrogen fuel cell revolution

Electrifying our energy sources is the key to saying goodbye to greenhouse gas emissions. But renewable electricity has its downsides: Getting it from the environment can be difficult (the sun doesn’t always shine), and batteries are often made of non-renewable materials like lithium and are capable of Limited energy storage.

Enter hydrogen fuel technology, which the researchers believe has greater energy potential than conventional batteries. Fuel cells convert hydrogen, the most abundant element in our universe, into electricity without generating any carbon. While some vehicles use hydrogen fuel cells — like the Toyota Mirai — large-scale commercialization is hampered by the technology’s reliance on platinum, an expensive precious metal that fuel cells use. to speed up the electricity production process.

But scientists are hoping to change that. In a new study published Monday in the journal CatalystsResearchers at Imperial College London and other European research institutions have developed a hydrogen fuel cell that uses iron, a much cheaper metal, as an alternative catalyst. In the experiments, the new fuel cell performed almost as well as the one made from platinum. This more affordable alternative could reduce production costs, make technology accessible, and get closer to being under the hood of your next car.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, fuel cells work by combining hydrogen atoms with oxygen atoms in a chemical reaction that produces electricity, water and a small amount of heat. These fuel cells typically use a catalyst, a substance (in this case, platinum) to speed up the reaction. In a press release, platinum is not cheap, is relatively scarce and currently accounts for 60% of the cost of a fuel cell.

“To make fuel cells a truly viable alternative to fossil fuel-powered vehicles, we need to bring that cost down,” he said.

To do that, Kucernak and his team turned to iron, a super-strong, cheap metal. The researchers did not use a solid piece of iron. Instead, they broke the metal down into single atoms – more reactive than a whole block of metal – and placed the molecules on top of a material made of carbon and nitrogen. They found that the catalyst generates almost as much electricity as a fuel cell made of platinum, which means we can avoid the high costs that would prevent hydrogen fuel from becoming more commercially viable. Commerce.

Iron-based hydrogen fuel cells are being tested in the lab.

Imperial College London

The technology is also not limited to hydrogen fuel cells. The researchers believe it could reduce costs for a wide range of commercial applications, such as using air to remove harmful pollutants from wastewater.

“We have developed a new approach to creating a range of ‘single-atom’ catalysts that offer the opportunity to enable a range of new chemical and electrochemical processes,” said Asad Mehmood, a chemist. “Specifically, we used a unique method, called supramolecular reaction, to avoid the formation of particles,” said study author at Imperial University and first author of the study. iron clusters during synthesis. This process will benefit other scientists looking to prepare a similar type of catalyst.”

Although this new iron catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells is not as stable as platinum, Imperial College researchers are working on improving the system. They hope to scale up so that one day, hydrogen fuel cells as a renewable energy source will become the norm – and not the exception. Trading platinum for iron could be the start of a hydrogen fuel cell revolution


Hung is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Hung joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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