Cheap Hydrogen Cars In A Decade, Researchers Say

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.

Professor Radenka Maric

image via University of Connecticut

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.

Paul Willis has been journalist for a decade. Starting out in Northern England, from where he hails, he worked as a reporter on regional papers before graduating to the cut-throat world of London print media. On the way he spent a year as a correspondent in East Africa, writing about election fraud, drought and an Ethiopian version of American Idol. Since moving to America three years ago he has worked as a freelancer, working for CNN.com and major newspapers in Britain, Australia and North America. He writes on subjects as diverse as travel, media ethics and human evolution. He lives in New York where, in spite of the car fumes and the sometimes eccentric driving habits of the yellow cabs, he rides his bike everywhere.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alex-Lester/100001046509730 Alex Lester

    Well there are a few other issues.  How are you going to produce the H2, I guess using water and electricity.
    How are you going to store the H2 so that it does not leak out?  No long term answer yet.  Still seems to be a less attractive alternative to better batteries.

    • dave

      “I guess using water and electricity.”

      You shouldnt guess.  Low temperature electrolysis is the least efficient way to produce hydrogen.  Large scale production would be more efficent by SMR (natural gas reforming 70% efficient) or by the SI process using solar or nuclear heat.

      There are now thousands of hydrogen powered vehicles (including cars, buses, forklifts) that store hydrogen in high pressure carbon fiber reinforced tanks.  This system works, but cheaper systems are still being pursued.