Improved fuel cell catalyst combines graphene and nanoparticles

Thanks to Charles Vollum for this news of a promising near term application of nanotechnology that combines graphene and nanoparticles to produce a platinum catalyst that is much more efficient than the current standard. From the hydrogen journal US researchers have found a way to combine nanoparticles and graphene to develop a more durable catalytic materials for fuel cells:

The research was done by the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., and Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. It was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society [abstract].

The graphene is in a one atom thick honeycomb. The nanoparticles used are indium tin oxide (ITO).

“This material has great potential to make fuel cells cheaper and last longer,” says catalytic chemist Yong Wang, who has a joint appointment with PNNL and WSU. “

The platinum is spread over the surface of the honeycomb of graphene mixed with nanoparticles.

Usually fuel cells use platinum on top of black carbon (pencil lead) – but platinum atoms tend to clump on the carbon and water can degrade the carbon away.

The platinum can be placed on top of metal oxides (rust). “But what metal oxides make up for in stability and catalyst dispersion, they lose in conductivity and ease of synthesis,” Pacific Northwest National Laboratory says.

When viewed under high resolution microscopes, it can be seen that without ITO, platinum atoms clump on the graphene surface, but with ITO, the platinum is evenly spread out. …

More details are available in a PNNL press release A paperweight for platinum

The article further states that supercomputer calculations showed that the combination of graphene, platinum, and ITO was more stable that the components alone, that tests showed the combination to be stronger and more durable, and that the material will now be tested on experimental fuel cells. This development is an example in which the integration of computer simulation, atomically precise materials, and other nanostructures is providing an advance in an important application area. We can hope that as successes accrue in applications vital to the global economy that increasing interest and resources will be focused on developing nanotechnology toward atomically precise manufacturing.

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