A new process for producing fuel cells could help bring the cost of hydrogen cars down significantly within 10 years, researchers claim.
Staff from the University of Connecticut developed the process, which involves spraying atom-sized particles of a catalyst onto a membrane, to produce hydrogen fuel cells.
They say that the same technique could also be used to make lithium-ion batteries, the kind used in most electric and hybrid cars.
The potential benefits of hydrogen fuel cell cars have long tempted auto makers. They have low emissions, no moving parts and because they generate power on board in fuel cells, they don’t need the long charging time of electric vehicles.
But the high production cost of the fuel cells has put the cars out of the price range of most consumers. The holy grail of many researchers has therefore been to find a way to get these costs down.
In order to make the fuel cells a catalyst is needed that can withstand the highly acidic solvents necessary to turn hydrogen into electricity. The only elements capable of this are platinum and iridium, which are both rare and expensive.
The new technique involves firing the catalyst on to the membrane in the form of a gas flame. The flame-based dispersion means the metal bonds quicker, eliminating the need for repeated binding and drying steps.
Professor Radenka Maric, who developed the process at the University of Connecticut’s Center for Clean Energy Engineering, said it used 10 times less catalyst material and produced significantly less waste.