Fuel Cell of the Future Developed by Volkswagen and Stanford University
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New triple-power fuel cell catalyst to bring cost reduction and increase in performance
WOLFSBURG, Germany - September 27, 2018: Fuel cell technology is regarded as a serious alternative to battery-electric technology, but it has always come with a comparatively high cost. A partnership between Volkswagen and Stanford University has significantly reduced this disadvantage thanks to a newly-developed process.
One of the biggest cost drivers for fuel cells is the use of the platinum, which is required as a catalyst to operate the fuel cell. In the catalytic process, platinum is distributed as particles on carbon powder. However, since the process only takes place on the surface of the platinum particles, large quantities of the costly material are wasted.
In a new process developed by Volkswagen and Stanford University, platinum atoms are precisely placed on a carbon surface in order to produce extremely thin particles. The benefits of the new process are threefold—it reduces the amount of platinum required, increases the efficiency of the catalyst by a factor of three compared to current technology, and increases the catalyst’s durability.
“This technology opens up enormous possibilities for cost reduction, as the amount of precious metal used is minimized. At the same time, service life and catalyst performance are increased,” says Professor Friedrich Prinz of Stanford University. “In addition to the fuel cell, atomic layer deposition also offers a whole range of other applications requiring high-performance materials, such as next-generation lithium-ion batteries.”
The fuel cell has great potential in emission-free mobility. The advantages over battery-electric vehicles are significant—cars with fuel cells are comparable to conventional combustion engines in terms of efficiency, range, and refueling times. Plus, the vehicle only gives off water and heat as emissions.
Due to the comparatively high production costs, the fuel cell is currently still a niche product. With the help of the new catalyst technology, there is potential for greater economic efficiency that could make the fuel cell a real alternative to battery-powered drives and the classic combustion engine. The task of the researchers is now to transfer the results obtained in the laboratory to industrial-scale production.