Japan’s Nisshinbo Holdings has become the first in the world to commercialize a fuel cell catalyst that uses a carbon alloy instead of platinum.
According to the company, using carbon alloy could result in greater savings and enable wider adoption fuel-cell cars.
Cost is one of the major hurdles for the adoption of fuel-cell vehicles. Toyota’s Mirai model, for example, released in 2014, sells for a hefty $65,800. There are other obstacles as well, such as the lack of infrastructure, including hydrogen filling stations.
Fuel cells generate power from a chemical reaction involving hydrogen and oxygen. A catalyst, usually made with platinum, is needed to kick-start the process. Nisshinbo’s catalyst uses a carbon alloy that has been heated in a way that creates a structure which achieves the same effect. The material works nearly as well as the conventional kind with platinum, and is thousands of times cheaper.
The company will initially supply the catalyst to Canada’s Ballard Power Systems, which will use it in a fuel cell for portable electronic devices, due to be released in December. The cell’s 30-watt output is enough to charge six smartphones.
Nisshinbo will continue to work on the technology to make it more feasible for automotive fuel cells too. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a single fuel-cell vehicle requires $3,650 in catalyst materials, accounting for 40-45% of the cost of the cell’s internal components. The main culprit is platinum, which goes for $36.35 per gram.
Replacing platinum with Nisshinbo’s carbon alloy catalyst – which costs less than a dollar per gram – could bring costs down significantly, reports Nikkei Asian Review.
The material can also be procured more reliably than platinum, which can be sourced from only a few countries, such as South Africa.
Image and content: Nikkei Asian Review