Fuel cells have catalysts that rapidly wear to the point of inhibiting the production of electricity, resulting in a limited use of the technology. The catalyst, Carbon Black, corrodes, and the porous nature of the material does not allow for the complete exposure of all the platinum catalyst.
Engineers Jan Schroers and André Taylor at the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science have created a new fuel cell catalyst made of nanowires, lasting 2.4 times longer than current cells. These nanowires are made of "bulk metallic glass" (BMG) and have a high surface area. Schroers and Taylors nanowires are 13 nm, 3 times smaller than carbon black particles. And the cylindrical shape also give the nanowires more surface area per volume. This exposes more of the catalyst, hence producing more electricity. According to the team, normal catalysts lose 60% activity every 1,000 cycles, and the BMG retains 96% of the function over 1,000 cycles.
"BMG has all the same properties of a metal but with the amorphous nature of glass,” said Taylor. The BMG nanowire alloy can blow molded into complex shapes using a hot-press method, says Schroers. BMG nanowires also conduct electricity better than carbon black, and even carbon nanowires.
Taylor, concludes, "It's a real step toward making fuel cells commercially viable and, ultimately, supplementing or replacing batteries in electronic devices."
The team is currently working on a fuel cell small enough to work in a laptop or cell phone.