Hydrogen Boosts Fuel-Cell Development in University at Buffalo Study

Dec. 5, 2023
Adding hydrogen to the fabricating process creates a catalyst that approaches the performance of platinum

University of Buffalo researchers say hydrogen may be the key ingredient needed to produce more cost-effective and durable fuel cells, potentially paving the way for commercial use as an electricity source in vehicles and aircraft.   

The researchers’ study, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and published in Nature Catalysis, discusses how adding hydrogen to the fabricating process creates a strong and effective catalyst that approaches the performance of platinum. Past experiments with different combinations of cheap materials, such as iron, nitrogen and carbon, have yielded mixed results, with varying levels of durability or efficiency.

“For years, the scientific community has struggled to balance this tradeoff. We can make low-cost that are effective but degrade too easily,” says the study’s corresponding author, Gang Wu, a professor in the department of chemical and biological engineering. “Or we’ve made them very stable, but their performance couldn’t match platinum. With this work, we’ve taken a step toward solving this problem.”

The work builds on Wu’s previous research on iron-nitrogen-carbon catalysts.

The new study focused on the pyrolysis process, which usually occurs within a chamber using an inert gas, such as argon. In this study, researchers fed hydrogen into the chamber to create mixture of 90% argon and 10% percent hydrogen.

This allowed them to control the makeup of the catalyst more precisely in positions that support durability and efficiency.

The resulting catalyst exceeded initial fuel cell performance set by the DOE for 2025. It also proved more durable than most iron-nitrogen-carbon catalysts, approaching levels seen in a typical low-platinum cathode.

University of Buffalo researchers say hydrogen may be the key ingredient needed to produce more cost-effective and durable fuel cells, potentially paving the way for commercial use as an electricity source in vehicles and aircraft.  

The researchers’ study, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and published in Nature Catalysis, discusses how adding hydrogen to the fabricating process creates a strong and effective catalyst that approaches the performance of platinum. Past experiments with different combinations of cheap materials, such as iron, nitrogen and carbon, have yielded mixed results, with varying levels of durability or efficiency.

“For years, the scientific community has struggled to balance this tradeoff. We can make low-cost that are effective but degrade too easily,” says the study’s corresponding author, Gang Wu, a professor in the department of chemical and biological engineering. “Or we’ve made them very stable, but their performance couldn’t match platinum. With this work, we’ve taken a step toward solving this problem.”

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