Boffins have discovered a technique to make hydrogen fuel cells significantly cheaper by using iron as the catalyst instead of platinum in hydrogen powered automobiles.
Importance of hydrogen fuel
Hydrogen as a source of energy to run your car, heat your home, or cook your supper... it's a bit of a snoozer. Electricity is more convenient and efficient to transfer, as it makes use of existing infrastructure. And, once you have the energy where you need it, retrieving it from a battery is far more efficient than converting it in a fuel cell. Nonetheless, hydrogen is a very necessary fuel. In a moment, I'll expand on it.
Hydrogen has three times the energy of gasoline per kilo, which is rather astounding. It possesses all the energy of a parent with newborn twins per litre, however, at atmospheric pressure. It must be compressed to enormous pressures (usually 5,000 to 10,000 PSI) or stored as a liquid (which implies chilling it to less than -253oC, or only 20 degrees above absolute zero) in order to be used as fuel.
Car companies have been investing heavily in this technology since the late 1990s, but only Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota now sell fuel cell automobiles, and only the latter two offer them in the United Kingdom. The complexity and cost of building a filling station network has inhibited large-scale adoption more than the technology.
What platinum does in a fuel cell?
What platinum works in a fuel cell is a little more complicated than you might think, but the idea is that microscopic platinum particles in a particular polymer aid in the splitting of hydrogen molecules into protons and electrons. The protons are combined with oxygen from the air (using more platinum) to generate clean water, while the electrons provide the motor with electricity. Our scientific understanding of how it accomplishes this is limited, but it has been a critical component of fuel cells up to this point.
Iron plays same role as platinum does
Due to the fact that a single atom of iron has different qualities than when it's bound together with iron atoms, the scholars at Imperial College discovered that employing nitrogen, carbon, and individual atoms of iron had about the same catalytic effect as a platinum catalyst.
What Professor Anthony kucernak said?
Professor Anthony Kucernak of Imperial College's Department of Chemistry, to his credit, stated something straightforward. He said, "Platinum for the catalyst accounts for roughly 60% of the cost of a single fuel cell." "We need to drive down the cost of fuel cells to make them a truly viable option to fossil-fuel-powered automobiles, for example." Even cynics like us can see that employing nitrogen and iron instead of platinum will result in far less expensive fuel cells in the future.
Why we use iron instead of platinum?
Platinum. It's hard to get by, costly, and essential for fuel cells. Or at least it was, if a few of Imperial College London professors are to be believed. They've apparently found out how to utilize iron instead of platinum as the catalyst in hydrogen-powered automobiles, lowering the cost of fuel cells and insuring that fuel cell makers won't be nibbling through a scarce and costly metal if this hydrogen thing ever takes off.
How do hydrogen vehicles function?
Electric cars utilizing a hydrogen fuel cell technology instead of a big battery pack are known as fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). Hydrogen is stored at 700bar in a tank, high-voltage electricity is generated by a stack, and a tiny buffer battery provides transitory power for acceleration and regenerative braking energy storage. Stacks are built up of smaller fuel cells (there are 370 in Toyota's system), each with a polymer membrane sandwiched between a catalyst-coated anode and cathode, and a catalyst-coated anode and cathode.
Who's in charge of what?
Mercedes-Benz: With the Necar 4, based on the A-Class, Mercedes became the first manufacturer of a road-legal FCEV in 1998. It's currently more focused on battery electric vehicles, but it still has the GLC F-Cell prototype and decades of research to back it up.
Ford has pulled back its FCEV involvement, which was once in conjunction with Daimler and big Canadian fuel cell company Ballard. However, Jiangling, a Chinese partner, manufactures hydrogen-fueled large vehicles. Toyota began significantly researching on hydrogen fuel cell technology in 1992 and released the Mirai in 2015. Later this year, a second-generation version will be released.
In reality, according to a research conducted by the European Federation for Transport and Environment, storing hydrogen takes the equivalent of 40% of the energy contained in the fuel. So, while it's 90% efficient to create, it's only 54% effective by the time it's in your tank - and that's before you include in the energy required to transport it.