MIT Moves Forward Home Fuel Cells

In the future, small-scale hydrogen fuel cells could provide power for both our homes and electric vehicles. Scientists at MIT recently reported on the discovery of a new catalyst that comprises a key element in such systems. According to a recent news release, this advance could help to free homes and businesses from dependence on not only the electric company, but the gas station as well.

The study leader from MIT, Daniel Nocera, Ph.D., recently presented a report at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston which focused on the electrolyzer element of such fuel cells. These electrolyzers require catalyst materials that jump start chemical reactions, like the ones that break water up into hydrogen and oxygen. Good catalysts for the part of the electrolyzer that produces hydrogen already exist–but catalysts for producing oxygen (including platinum), until this point, have been expensive and/or short-lived.

Personal Fuel Cells

image via American Chemical Society

Nocera’s report details research at MIT on a new catalyst that boosts oxygen production by 200-fold. This mysterious substance has not been named, but information on it has been licensed to a company known as Sun Catalytix, which envisions the development of safe, super-efficient versions of the electrolyzer, suitable for homes and small businesses, not in decades, but rather years–two years, to be exact.

“Our goal is to make each home its own power station,” said study leader Daniel Nocera, Ph.D., in a statement. “We’re working toward development of ‘personalized’ energy units that can be manufactured, distributed and installed inexpensively. There certainly are major obstacles to be overcome — existing fuel cells and solar cells must be improved, for instance. Nevertheless, one can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic system.”

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Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.