December 13, 2013

New catalyst for fuel cells

Researchers discover a potential substitute for platinum

Fuel cells represent an important component of the energy transition, as they supply electrical energy without first having to create heat and steam from fossil fuels. Instead, they create the energy directly from a reaction of hydrogen and oxygen to form water. For that reason, they can create energy more efficiently than coal-fired or gas-fired power plants. Today’s fuel cells require, however, costly platinum as a catalyst for this reaction, which restricts their more widespread use. A team at the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart has been inspired by nature to develop an alternative catalyst. It consists of organic molecules as well as iron or manganese on a metallic substrate. These materials are less costly and more easily available than platinum.