Researchers from the University of California-Riverside have announced the development of a low cost and efficient catalyst material used in polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells.

While traditional PEM catalysts depend on expensive platinum (Pt), this catalyst uses more abundant (and cheaper) metals (cobalt, iron, nickel) that are integrated into engineered carbon-fiber membranes to achieve needed performance in the fuel cell reaction.

Using ‘a technique called electrospinning, the UCR researchers made paper-thin sheets of carbon nanofibers that contained metal ions — either cobalt, iron or nickel. Upon heating, the ions formed ultrafine metal nanoparticles that catalyzed the transformation of carbon into a high-performance graphitic carbon. Subsequently, the metal nanoparticles and residual nongraphitic carbon were oxidized, leading to a highly porous and useful network of metal oxide nanoparticles dispersed in a porous network of graphite.’

If the membrane is able to tolerate carbon from fuels such as methanol, the technology might find its way into micro fuel cell applications which can use liquid fuels.

Key Terms:

  • Precious vs Non-Precious metals
  • Oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) catalysts
  • Engineered Carbon-based nanocomposites

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