Bimetallic aerogels at the nanoscale have good porosity and a large surface area, which work well for catalytic reactions in fuel cells. (Credit: Washington State University)
A team of researchers from Washington State University (WSU) have created a novel nanomaterial that could enhance the performance and reduce the costs of fuel cells by using small amounts of precious metals, such as palladium or platinum.
The team, headed by Yuehe Lin, professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, used low-cost metal to make an aerogel, which is an extremely low density material, to decrease the quantity of precious metals needed for fuel cell reactions.
They also accelerated the process of creating aerogels, making them highly practical for mass production.
Their study is published in Advanced Materials.
Hydrogen fuel cells are a potential green energy solution, generating electricity a lot more efficiently and in a cleaner way, compared to combustion engines. However expensive precious metals are required to fuel chemical reactions. This requirement has restricted their commercial acceptance.
Sometimes referred to as liquid smoke, aerogels are solid materials that are approximately 92% air. They are effective insulators, and are used in wet suits, windows, paints, firefighting gear, and in fuel cell catalysts.
As metal-based aerogels have large surface areas and are very porous, they function well for catalyzing in fuel cells.
The WSU researchers developed many bimetallic aerogels, integrating low-cost copper and using moderately precious metals compared to other metal aerogels.
The team added the copper into the bimetallic system via their new, single-step reduction technique to develop hydrogel. The aerogel’s liquid-filled form is the hydrogel. Carefully and totally, the liquid component is dried out of the hydrogel to develop aerogel.
The time taken to manufacture the hydrogel was reduced from three days to six hours with this technique.
This will be a great advantage for large scale production.
Chengzhou Zhu, Assistant Research Professor, WSU
The research matches the parameters of WSU’s Grand Challenges, a suite of research initiatives focused on large societal issues. It is mainly applicable to the challenge of sustainable resources, and the subject of energy.