New Carbon Membrane Generates a Hundred Times More Power – Opens up New Possibilities for Power Generation, Desalination and More Efficient Fuel Cells


Graphene-filter

A new carbon membrane could someday be used in commercial desalination plants

Leiden chemists have created a new ultrathin membrane only one molecule thick. The membrane can produce a hundred times more power from seawater than the best membranes used today. The researchers have published their findings in Nature Nanotechnology.

Thin and porous

When fresh and saltwater meet, an exchange of salt and other particles takes place. A  placed in water is able to harness energy from particles moving from one side to the other. A similar process can also be used to desalinate seawater. Leiden chemists have developed a new membrane that can produce a hundred times more energy than classic membranes and known prototype membranes in scientific literature.

How much power is generated depends on the thickness of the membrane and how porous it is. Researchers were able to create a carbon based membrane that is both porous and thin. That is why it can produce more energy than current membranes, which are either porous or thin, but not both.

newcarbonmem Credit: Xue Liu

To create this new membrane, Xue Liu and Grégory Schneider spread a large number of oily molecules on a water surface. These molecular building blocks then form a thin film on their own. By heating the film, the molecules are locked in place, creating a stable and porous membrane. According to Xue Liu, the membrane can be adapted for specific requirements. Liu: “The membrane we’ve created is only two nanometers thick and permeable to potassium ions. We can change the properties of the membrane by using a different molecular building block. That way we can adapt it to suit any need.”

Graphene

The new carbon membrane is similar to graphene, a large flat membrane made up of only carbon atoms. But according to Grégory Schneider, this new membrane is in a whole different category. Schneider: “When making a membrane, a lot of researchers start out with graphene, which is very thin, but not porous. They then try to punch holes in it to make more permeable. We’ve done the reverse by assembling small molecules and building a larger porous membrane from those . Compared to , it contains imperfections, but that’s what gives it its special properties.”

This new membrane combines the best of both worlds. Schneider: “Much of the research in this field was focused on creating better catalysts, membranes were somewhat of a dead end. This new discovery opens up whole new possibilities for , desalination and for  much more efficient fuel cells.”


Explore further

Water desalination picks up the pace


More information: Xue Liu et al. Power generation by reverse electrodialysis in a single-layer nanoporous membrane made from core–rim polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, Nature Nanotechnology (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41565-020-0641-5

Journal information: Nature Nanotechnology

Hydrogen Fuel Cell vs Electric Cars: What You Need to Know


Let’s get the main question out of the way first. What is a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle? And how is it different to the host of battery-powered electric vehicles making their way onto the market by manufacturers from Jaguar and Audi to Nissan and Renault? 

Hydrogen fuel cell cars have batteries onboard which store hydrogen and oxygen and power the vehicle with chemical reactions between the two elements to create water and energy.

Sometimes known as fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), they have exhaust pipes but the only thing that escapes from them is water. The cars need refuelling, but with hydrogen rather than petrol or diesel fuel. For each fill of hydrogen, the car will gain 320-405km (200-250 miles) of range.

Meanwhile, conventional electric vehicles, often known as battery-operated electric vehicles (BEVs) are what we tend to think of as the most common fully electric cars. Like the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, and Teslas.

These cars are powered by batteries which store charge in a similar way to phones, though many electric cars do manage to give themselves a slight recharge when braking, by converting the heat produced into electricity.

However, they’ll still need recharging at a mains electricity point after every 160-240km (100-150 miles). And that’s the main bugbear for many considering a BEV. With a standard EV and charging point, it could take up to 12 hours to fully charge a battery. Though rapid charge points exist, it will still take up to half an hour to add 160km of range.

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That compares with just a few seconds refuelling a petrol or diesel car on the forecourt. It’s here where fuel cell cars come into their own as a zero emissions alternative that’s also quick to refuel. Refuelling with hydrogen will take a couple of minutes, similar to the current practice.

With the basics out of the way, we asked two experts for their take on this new tech and when, if ever, we’ll see it taking the automotive industry by storm.

Why haven’t most people heard of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles?

“Hydrogen car development has taken a back seat due to the fact that electric vehicles are more popular among the public,” Mark Barclay, e-commerce manager at GSF Car Parts, tells Euronews Living.

“But there are benefits to hydrogen that outweigh electric — sometimes literally, as hydrogen fuel cells are much lighter than powerful batteries. As you can top up a hydrogen car much quicker than charging your electric model, they’re perfect for public transport and businesses that can’t afford vehicle downtime.”

So, what are the pros and cons of fuel cell vs electric, hybrid or standard cars?

The decision to buy an electric or non-combustion engine car comes down to four key criteria:

  • Range
  • Performance
  • Convenience of recharging/refuelling
  • Price

That’s according to Jeremy Parkes, global business lead for electric vehicles at Norwegian renewable energy tech consultancy and classification society DNV GL, who researches buying habits and what the future will hold for the roads.

“In terms of range, current hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle models are slightly better than battery electric vehicles,” he says. “However, when looking at performance, the price point and the availability of recharging/refuelling, EVs are winning.”

What are the factors standing in the way of mass adoption of this tech?

“Although refuelling a FCEV is very similar in time to an internal combustion engine vehicle, the refuelling options are very limited and an expansion of the refuelling infrastructure is very expensive compared to the expansion of the EV charging infrastructure, mainly because there is already an electrical grid in place in most areas where cars typically need to be charged,” says Parkes.

“BEVs can already be conveniently charged at the passenger’s home, something that is not be possible for FCEVs. It should also be noted that the CO2 emissions from a BEV over its lifetime are not only significantly lower than an ICE vehicle but are also lower than FCEV, where the majority of hydrogen is generated using fossil fuels, through methane steam reforming.”

Honda planned to add hydrogen fuelling when it opened ‘Europe’s most advanced public electric vehicle charging station’ in 2017 Honda

The experts agree that a major factor preventing uptake at the moment is the prohibitive cost. Barclay adds: “Hydrogen fuel cells are very expensive, and there are very few places to refill in the UK, so the infrastructure just isn’t there to support the technology at the moment.

There are also safety concerns among the public around the production of hydrogen and storage facilities, as hydrogen gas is extremely flammable.”

How will prices compare in the long run?

“BEVs are already much cheaper, both the upfront and running costs for FCEVs are higher than for BEVs,” Parkes tells Euronews Living.

“Many new technologies struggle getting to scale which is crucial for the reduction of costs, since every time the production levels of a new technology increase the costs will decrease. For battery technology, we see a cost reduction of 19% for every doubling of the production levels.

Already we see the total number of BEVs being manufactured and sold globally in the millions, compared to hydrogen, which amount to just a few tens of thousands being sold to date.”

Who’s working on the tech and when will we see it?

“Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai already have hydrogen cars on the market and Europe is catching up,” says Barclay. But he still thinks hydrogen cars “clearly have some way to go before they take over the roads” to the extent electric and hybrid cars have.

“The industry still needs to adapt to these new technologies as investments continue to be made to improve the concept of hydrogen powered vehicles, mostly to reduce cost,” he says. “So, hydrogen cars should begin to threaten electric vehicles or even overtake them within the decade, and businesses should be prepared for that.”

A fleet of fuel cell Toyota Mirai cars have racked up more than a million miles on the streets of London.Toyota

Parkes disagrees. “Ultimately it comes down to two factors. The proven scalability, and hence the cost reductions of battery technology, and the poor charging infrastructure for fuel cell cars mean that BEVs are expected to dominate the passenger vehicle market in the coming decades.”

He adds: “There are still some expectations in the market that fuel cell technology might scale-up.

For instance, by the rise of producing hydrogen though electrolysis, driven by very low electricity prices due to excess renewable energy, which could form a business case for hydrogen production.

However, it should be highlighted that with current technology this is very inefficient, approximately three times as much energy needs to be put into the process compared to the energy available in the hydrogen produced.”

There have been allegations of unethical and unsustainable sourcing of raw materials for EV batteries. Are they true and should people be worried?

Critics have slammed reports of unsustainable sourcing for the lithium ion batteries that go into conventional electric vehicles. However, “they ignore the innovation push in the industry that will lead to major cost reductions, as well as alternative ecological battery solutions”, Parkes says.

“Not only are BEVs more ecological in the short term, but also more sustainable and responsible in the long term.

The industry is making rapid advances as we scale-up, developing new battery types for EVs such as the use of solid-state batteries, which can charge and discharge faster and have a higher energy density than li-ion batteries, as well as using less rare metals in its production process.”

So, that’s it. A beginners’ guide to the world of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and how they compare to the mainstream electrical vehicle. If you’ve got any more questions you’d like answered, let us know in the comments section below.

 

Nikola Motors unveils new electric pickup with battery/fuel-cell hybrid: 600-mile range, 0-60mph in 2.9s, and more … “The Badger”


Nikola Motors, better known for its electric fuel-cell semi-trucks, is today unveiling a concept for a new electric pickup with a battery/fuel-cell hybrid powertrain enabling 600 miles of range, 0-60 mph acceleration in 2.9 seconds, and more.

The Arizona-based company is planning to use battery packs in its larger hydrogen semi trucks and all-electric powertrains in its smaller and shorter-distance trucks.

After announcing their plans for trucks in 2015, the startup started expanding its portfolio with electric UTVs, watercraft, and more.

Now they are also expanding to electric pickup trucks and unveiled the Nikola Badger today.

Trevor Milton, CEO, Nikola Corporation, commented on the announcement:

Nikola has billions worth of technology in our semi-truck program, so why not build it into a pickup truck? I have been working on this pickup program for years and believe the market is now ready for something that can handle a full day’s worth of work without running out of energy. This electric truck can be used for work, weekend getaways, towing, off-roading or to hit the ski slopes without performance loss. No other electric pickup can operate in these temperatures and conditions.

They listed the following specs for the Nikola Badger

  • 600 miles on blended FCEV/BEV
  • 300 miles on BEV alone
  • Operates on blended FCEV/BEV or BEV only by touch of a button
  • 906HP peak
  • 455HP continuous
  • 980 ft. lbs. of torque
  • 160kWh, flooded module — lithium-ion battery
  • 120kW fuel cell
  • Advanced Supercapacitor Launch Assist that blends with lithium ion and fuel-cell
  • -20F operating environments without major performance or SOC losses
  • Towing capacity of over 8,000 pounds
  • Operating targets without motor stalls up to 50% grade
  • 15kW power export outlet
  • Compatible with industry standard charging for BEV mode
  • Five seats
  • Truck dimensions: 5,900mm long x 1,850mm tall x 2,160mm wide and a 1,560mm bed width

They claim a hybrid battery/fuel cell powertrain that can operate independently for 300 miles of battery-only range and 300 miles of fuel cell range.

While they are announcing specs, they are not unveiling a prototype just yet. They are only showing some concept images:

The company says that the vehicle will be fully unveiled at their Nikola World 2020 event in September. They will start to take reservations at that time.

A new method of extracting hydrogen from water more efficiently to capture renewable energy


Crystal structure and {MoTe}6 polyhedra showing the building blocks of each polymorph. a monoclinic 1T′-MoTe2 phase and b hexagonal 2H-MoTe2 phase. Credit: Nature Communications 10.1038/s41467-019-12831-0

A new method of extracting hydrogen from water more efficiently could help underpin the capture of renewable energy in the form of sustainable fuel, scientists say.

In a new paper, published today in the journal Nature Communications, researchers from universities in the UK, Portugal, Germany and Hungary describe how pulsing through a layered catalyst has allowed them to almost double the amount of  produced per millivolt of electricity used during the process.

Electrolysis, a process which is likely familiar to anyone who studied chemistry at , uses electric current to split the bonds between the hydrogen and oxygen atoms of water, releasing hydrogen and oxygen gas.

If the electric current for the process of electrolysis is generated through renewable means such as wind or , the entire process releases no additional carbon into the atmosphere, making no contributions to climate change. Hydrogen gas can then be used as a zero-emission fuel source in some forms of transport such as buses and cars or for heating homes.

The team’s research focused on finding a more efficient way to produce hydrogen through the electrocatalytic water splitting reaction. They discovered that electrodes covered with a molybedenum telluride catalyst showed an increase in the amount of hydrogen gas produced during the electrolysis when a specific pattern of high-current pulses was applied.

By optimising the pulses of current through the acidic electrolyte, they could reduce the amount of energy needed to make a given amount of hydrogen by nearly 50%.

Dr. Alexey Ganin, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Chemistry, directed the research team. Dr. Ganin said: “Currently the UK meets about a third of its energy production needs through renewable sources, and in Scotland that figure is about 80%.

“Experts predict that we’ll soon reach a point where we’ll be producing more renewable electricity than our consumption demands. However, as it currently stands the excess of generated energy must be used as it’s produced or else it goes to waste. It’s vital that we develop a robust suite of methods to store the  for later use.

“Batteries are one way to do that, but hydrogen is a very promising alternative. Our research provides an important new insight into producing hydrogen from electrolysis more effectively and more economically, and we’re keen to pursue this promising avenue of investigation.”

Since the level of catalytic enhancement is controlled by electric currents, recent advances in machine learning could be used to fine-tune the right sequence of applied currents to achieve the maximum output.

The next stage for the team is the development of an artificial intelligence protocol to replace human input in the search for the most effective electronic structures use in similar catalytic processes.

The paper, titled “The rapid electrochemical activation of MoTe2 for the hydrogen evolution reaction,” is published in Nature Communications

More information: The rapid electrochemical activation of MoTe2 for the hydrogen evolution reaction, Nature Communicationsdoi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-12831-0 , www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-12831-0

Journal information: Nature Communications

Provided by University of Glasgow

The CEO Who Wants Italy to Love Hydrogen Power


A hydrogen fuel tank. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

  • Snam chief says company to inject more hydrogen into system
  • Market could be worth $2.5 trillion if industry embraces gasThe

THE CEO Who Wants Italy to Love Hydrogen Power

— Read on www.bloomberg.com/amp/news/articles/2019-10-10/hydrogen-could-feed-25-of-italy-s-energy-by-2050-snam-says

Fuel Cells to Receive Boost with pledge of 10M Vehicles


Toyota released the first mass-produced fuel cell  automobile, the Mirai, in 2014. But because of high costs, the technology has been slow to catch on.

Global ministers meeting will focus on ways to increase the technology’s use

An international conference on fuel cells that is scheduled to open here Wednesday is set to call for powering 10 million vehicles — including trains, planes and automobiles — with the environmentally friendly technology in 10 years, Nikkei has learned.

Currently, only around 10,000 vehicles around the world run on fuel cells, which use hydrogen to produce electricity without emitting Earth-warming carbon dioxide.

Japanese Industry Minister Isshu Sugawara will chair the second Hydrogen Energy Ministerial Meeting that will be attended by officials from the U.S., Europe and the Mideast. He has included the 10 million goal in his draft chairman’s statement, which also includes a goal to increase the number of hydrogen fueling stations to 10,000 in 10 years. There are now several hundred fueling stations globally.

The goal of 10 million vehicles is not a commitment, but is seen as an ambitious, common global target, the draft notes.

Toyota Motor introduced the first mass-produced fuel cell vehicle in 2014. Japan has considered the technology important even as battery-powered electric vehicles have been widely adopted overseas.

The chairman’s statement will also include a call for common standards and research agenda.

The meeting will endeavor to map out what a hydrogen supply chain might look like. Hydrogen is produced by the electrolysis of water, and once liquefied is easy to transport and store. The draft statement raises the possibility of cross-border trading and calls for determining international shipping routes and support for market trading.

One issue for fuel cell vehicles has been cost — Toyota’s fuel cell vehicle, the Mirai, has a sticker price of more than 7 million yen ($65,000), about 3 million more than a conventional hybrid. The Japanese government believes that by expanding the market, costs will fall, creating a positive feedback cycle.

In the U.S., there are around 25,000 fuel cell forklifts in operation. These types of industrial vehicles are included in the 10 million goal.

 

Re-Posted from Nikkei Asian Review

Platinum-graphene fuel cell catalysts show superior stability over bulk platinum – Georgia Institute of Tecnology


Seung Soon Jang, an associate professor, Faisal Alamgir, an associate professor, and Ji Il Choi, a postdoctoral researcher, all in Georgia Tech’s School of Materials Science and Engineering, examine a piece of platinum-graphene catalyst. Credit: Allison Carter

Films of platinum only two atoms thick supported by graphene could enable fuel cell catalysts with unprecedented catalytic activity and longevity, according to a study published recently by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Platinum is one of the most commonly used catalysts for fuel cells because of how effectively it enables the oxidation reduction reaction at the center of the technology. But its high cost has spurred research efforts to find ways to use smaller amounts of it while maintaining the same .

“There’s always going to be an initial cost for producing a fuel cell with , and it’s important to keep that cost as low as possible,” said Faisal Alamgir, an associate professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Materials Science and Engineering. “But the real cost of a fuel cell system is calculated by how long that system lasts, and this is a question of durability.

“Recently there’s been a push to use catalytic systems without , but the problem is that there hasn’t been a system proposed so far that simultaneously matches the catalytic activity and the durability of platinum,” Alamgir said.

The Georgia Tech researchers tried a different strategy. In the study, which was published on September 18 in the journal Advanced Functional Materialsand supported by the National Science Foundation, they describe creating several systems that used atomically-thin  of platinum supported by a layer of graphene—effectively maximizing the total surface area of the platinum available for catalytic reactions and using a much smaller amount of the precious metal.

Most platinum-based catalytic systems use nanoparticles of the metal chemically bonded to a support surface, where surface atoms of the particles do most of the catalytic work, and the catalytic potential of the atoms beneath the surface is never utilized as fully as the surface atoms, if at all.

This graphic shows how the graphene layer in gray provides structure and stability to the two atomic layers of platinum above represented in blue. Credit: Ji Il Choi

Additionally, the researchers showed that the new platinum films that are at least two atoms thick outperformed nanoparticle platinum in the dissociation energy, which is a measure of the energy cost of dislodging a surface platinum atom. That measurement suggests those films could make potentially longer-lasting catalytic systems.

To prepare the atomically-thin films, the researchers used a process called electrochemical atomic layer deposition to grow platinum monolayers on a layer of graphene, creating samples that had one, two or three atomic layers of atoms. The researchers then tested the samples for dissociation energy and compared the results to the energy of a single atom of platinum on graphene as well as the energy from a common configurations of platinum nanoparticles used in catalysts.

“The fundamental question at the heart of this work was whether it was possible that a combination of metallic and  can render the platinum atoms in a platinum-graphene combination more stable than their counterparts in bulk platinum used commonly in catalysts that are supported by metallic bonding,” said Seung Soon Jang, an associate professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering.

The researchers found that the bond between neighboring platinum atoms in the film essentially combines forces with the bond between the film and the graphene layer to provide reinforcement across the system. That was especially true in the platinum film that was two atoms thick.

“Typically metallic films below a certain thickness are not stable because the bonds between them are not directional, and they tend to roll over each other and conglomerate to form a particle,” Alamgir said. “But that’s not true with graphene, which is stable in a two-dimensional form, even one atom thick, because it has very strong covalent directional bonds between its neighboring . So this new catalytic system could leverage the directional bonding of the graphene to support an atomically-thin film of platinum.”

Future research will involve further testing of how the films behave in a catalytic environment. The researchers found in earlier research on graphene-platinum films that the material behaves similarly in catalytic reactions regardless of which side—graphene or platinum—is the exposed active surface.

“In this configuration, the graphene is not acting as a separate entity from the platinum,” Alamgir said. “They’re working together as one. So we believe that if you’re exposing the  side, you get the same catalytic activity and you could further protect the platinum, potentially further enhancing durability.”

More information: Ji Il Choi et al, Contiguous and Atomically Thin Pt Film with Supra‐Bulk Behavior Through Graphene‐Imposed Epitaxy, Advanced Functional Materials(2019).  DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201902274

Journal information: Advanced Functional Materials

Provided by Georgia Institute of Technology

Why Asia’s biggest economies are backing hydrogen fuel cell cars


 

Fuel cell 1 download
FILE PHOTO: An Air Liquide hydrogen station for hydrogen fuel cell cars is seen in Paris, France, October 13, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Platiau. 

China, Japan and South Korea have set ambitious targets to put millions of hydrogen-powered vehicles on their roads by the end of the next decade at a cost of billions of dollars.

But to date, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) have been upstaged by electric vehicles, which are increasingly becoming a mainstream option due to the success of Tesla Inc’s (TSLA.O) luxury cars as well as sales and production quotas set by China.

Critics argue FCVs may never amount to more than a niche technology. But proponents counter hydrogen is the cleanest energy source for autos available and that with time and more refueling infrastructure, it will gain acceptance.

AMBITIOUS TARGETS

China, far and away the world’s biggest auto market with some 28 million vehicles sold annually, is aiming for more than 1 million FCVs in service by 2030. That compares with just 1,500 or so now, most of which are buses.

fuel-cell-market4Read More: Fuel Cell Market by Type

Japan, a market of more than 5 million vehicles annually, wants to have 800,000 FCVs sold by that time from around 3,400 currently.

South Korea, which has a car market just one third the size of Japan, has set a target of 850,000 vehicles on the road by 2030. But as of end-2018, fewer than 900 have been sold.

 

WHY HYDROGEN?

 

Hydrogen’s proponents point to how clean it is as an energy source as water and heat are the only byproducts and how it can be made from a number of sources, including methane, coal, water, even garbage. Resource-poor Japan sees hydrogen as a way to greater energy security.

They also argue that driving ranges and refueling times for FCVs are comparable to gasoline cars, whereas EVs require hours to recharge and provide only a few hundred kilometers of range.

Many backers in China and Japan see FCVs as complementing EVs rather than replacing them. In general, hydrogen is seen as the more efficient choice for heavier vehicles that drive longer distances, hence the current emphasis on city buses.

THE MAIN PLAYERS

Only a handful of automakers have made fuel cell passenger cars commercially available.

Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) launched the Mirai sedan at the end of 2014, but has sold fewer than 10,000 globally. Hyundai Motor Co (005380.KS) has offered the Nexo crossover since March last year and has sold just under 2,900 worldwide. It had sales of around 900 for its previous FCV model, the Tucson.

Buses are seeing more demand. Both Toyota and Hyundai have offerings and have begun selling fuel cell components to bus makers, particularly in China.

Several Chinese manufacturers have developed their own buses, notably state-owned SAIC Motor (600104.SS), the nation’s biggest automaker, and Geely Auto Group, which also owns the Volvo Cars and Lotus brands.

WHY HAVEN’T FUEL CELL CARS CAUGHT ON YET?

A lack of refueling stations, which are costly to build, is usually cited as the biggest obstacle to widespread adoption of FCVs. At the same time, the main reason cited for the lack of refueling infrastructure is that there are not enough FCVs to make them profitable.

Consumer worries about the risk of explosions are also a big hurdle and residents in Japan and South Korea have protested against the construction of hydrogen stations. This year, a hydrogen tank explosion in South Korea killed two people, which was followed by a blast at a Norway hydrogen station.

Then there’s the cost. Heavy subsidies are needed to bring prices down to levels of gasoline-powered cars. Toyota’s Mirai costs consumers just over 5 million yen ($46,200) after subsidies of 2.25 million yen. That’s still about 50% more than a Camry.

Automakers contend that once sales volumes increase, economies of scale will make subsidies unnecessary.

 

HOW FUEL CELLS WORK

(GRAPHIC: How fuel cell vehicles work: here)

Reuters Graphic

 

Reuters: Reporting by Kevin Buckland in Tokyo; Additional reporting by Yilei Sun in Beijing and Hyunjoo Jin in Seoul; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

 

 

Researchers the University of Pennsylvania Think ‘Small’ to make Progress Towards Better Fuel Cells


Nano for Fuel Cells 41-researcherst
Graduate student Jennifer Lee uses a large transmission electron microscope, housed in the Singh Center, to take a closer look at the nanomaterials and nanocrystals that are synthesized in the lab. Credit: University of Pennsylvania

As renewable sources such as wind and solar are quickly changing the energy landscape, scientists are looking for ways to better store energy for when it’s needed. Fuel cells, which convert chemical energy into electrical power, are one possible solution for long-term energy storage, and could someday be used to power trucks and cars without burning fuel. But before fuel cells can be widely used, chemists and engineers need to find ways to make this technology more cost-effective and stable.

A new study from the lab of Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor Christopher Murray, led by graduate student Jennifer Lee, shows how custom-designed nanomaterials can be used to address these challenges. In ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, researchers show how a  can be built from cheaper, more widely available metals using an atomic-level design that also gives the material long-term stability. Former post-doc Davit Jishkariani and former students Yingrui Zhao and Stan Najmr, current student Daniel Rosen, and professors James Kikkawa and Eric Stach, also contributed to this work.

The chemical reaction that powers a fuel cell relies on two electrodes, a negative anode and a positive cathode, separated by an electrolyte, a substance that allows the ions to move. When fuel enters the anode, a catalyst separates molecules into protons and electrons, with the latter traveling toward the cathode and creating an electric current.

Catalysts are typically made of precious metals, like platinum, but because the chemical reactions only occur on the surface of the material, any atoms that are not presented on the surface of the material are wasted. It’s also important for catalysts to be stable for months and years because fuel  are very difficult to replace.

Researchers think small to make progress towards better fuel cells
When not busy at the microscope or analyzing data, researchers in the Murray group work on synthesizing new nanomaterials. Credit: University of Pennsylvania

Chemists can address these two problems by designing custom nanomaterials that have platinum at the surface while using more common metals, such as cobalt, in the bulk to provide stability. The Murray group excels at creating well-controlled nanomaterials, known as nanocrystals, in which they can control the size, shape, and composition of any composite nanomaterial.

In this study, Lee focused on the catalyst in the cathode of a specific type of fuel cell known as a proton exchange membrane fuel cell. “The cathode is more of a problem, because the materials are either platinum or platinum-based, which are expensive and have slower reaction rates,” she says. “Designing the catalyst for the cathode is the main focus of designing a good fuel cell.”

The challenge, explains Jishkariani, was in creating a cathode in which platinum and cobalt atoms would form into a stable structure. “We know cobalt and platinum mixes well; however, if you make alloys of these two, you have added atoms of platinum and cobalt in a random order,” he says. Adding more cobalt in a random order causes it to leach out into the electrode, meaning that the fuel cell will only function for a short time.

To solve this problem, researchers designed a catalyst made of layered platinum and cobalt known as an intermetallic phase. By controlling exactly where each atom sat in the catalyst and locking the structure in place, the cathode catalyst was able to work for longer periods than when the atoms were arranged randomly. As an additional unexpected finding, the researchers found that adding more cobalt to the system led to greater efficiency, with a 1-to-1 ratio of platinum to cobalt, better than many other structures with a wide range of platinum-to-cobalt ratios.

Researchers think small to make progress towards better fuel cells
The Xeuss 2.0 X-ray scattering instrument, which came to the LRSM in 2018, helps researchers characterize the structures of a wide range of hard and soft materials.  Credit: University of Pennsylvania

The next step will be to test and evaluate the intermetallic material in fuel cell assemblies to make direct comparisons to commercially-available systems. The Murray group will also be working on new ways to create the intermetallic structure without high temperatures and seeing if adding additional atoms improve the catalyst’s performance.

This work required high-resolution microscopic imaging, work that Lee previously did at Brookhaven National Lab but, thanks to recent acquisitions, can now be done at Penn in the Singh Center for Nanotechnology. “Many of the high-end experiments that we would have had to travel to around the country, sometimes around the world, we can now do much closer to home,” says Murray. “The advances that we’ve brought in electron microscopy and X-ray scattering are a fantastic addition for people that work on energy conversion and catalytic studies.”

Lee also experienced first-hand how chemistry research directly connects to real world challenges. She recently presented this work at the International Precious Metals Institute conference and says that meeting members of the precious-metals community was enlightening. “There are companies looking at fuel cell technology and talking about the newest design of the fuel cell cars,” she says. “You get to interact with people that think of your project from different perspectives.”

Murray sees this fundamental research as a starting point towards commercial implementation and real world application, emphasizing that future progress relies on the forward-looking research that’s happening now. “Thinking about a world where we’ve displaced a lot of the traditional fossil -based inputs, if we can figure out this interconversion of electrical and , that will address a couple of very important problems simultaneously.”


Explore further

New, durable catalyst for key fuel cell reaction may prove useful in eco-friendly vehicles

The Tesla Effect is Reaching Critical Mass – Could it Really Put Big Oil on the Defensive … Really?


Tesla-S3X-Semi-fleet-press-photo-e1548882286108-1024x523

*** This article appeared in TESLARATI and was re-posted in Fully Charged. We have Followed and Written a LOT about the ‘Coming EV Revolution’, about Advances in Charging Stations and Battery Technology. Most recently we posted an article ‘What If Green Energy Isn’t the Future?’

So maybe … just maybe, ‘Green Energy’ might NOT be able to meet the current Projected Carbon Fuel Replacement Schedule …. However, could the EV/ Hydrogen Fuel Cell Revolution replace forever the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE)?  (Hint: We Think So!)

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Headed by vehicles like the Tesla Model 3, the electric car revolution is showing no signs of stopping. The auto landscape today is very different from what it was years ago. Before, only Tesla and a few automakers were pushing electric cars, and the Model S was proving to the industry that EVs could be objectively better than internal combustion vehicles. Today, practically every automaker has plans to release electric cars. EV startup Bollinger Motors CEO Robert Bollinger summed it up best: “If you want to start a (car company) now, it has to be electric.”

CATALYSTS FOR A TRANSITION

A critical difference between then and now is that veteran automakers today are coming up with decent electric vehicles. No longer were EVs glorified golf carts and compliance cars; today’s electric vehicles are just as attractive, sleek, and powerful than their internal combustion peers. The auto industry has warmed up to electric vehicles as well. The Jaguar I-PACE has been collecting awards left and right since its release, and more recently, the Kia Niro EV was dubbed by Popular Mechanics as the recipient of its Car of the Year award.

A survey by CarGurus earlier this year revealed that 34% of car buyers are open to purchasing an electric car within the next ten years. A survey among young people in the UK last year revealed even more encouraging results, with 50% of respondents stating that they want electric cars. Amidst the disruption being brought about by the Tesla Model 3, which has all but dominated EV sales since production ramped last year, experienced automakers have responded in kind. Volkswagen recently debuted the ID.3, Audi has the e-tron, Hyundai has the Kona EV, and Mercedes-Benz has the EQC. Even Porsche, a low-volume car manufacturer, is attracting the high-end legacy market with the Taycan.

At this point, it appears that Tesla’s mission is going well underway. With the market now open to the idea of electric vehicles, there is an excellent chance that EV adoption will only increase from this point on.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveils the Tesla Semi. (Credit: Tesla)

BIG OIL FEELS A CHANGE IN THE WIND

Passenger cars are the No.1 source of demand for oil, and with the potential emergence of a transportation industry whose life and death does not rely on a gas pump, Big Oil could soon find itself on the defensive. Depending on how quickly the auto industry could shift entirely to sustainable transportation and how seriously governments handle issues like climate change, “peak oil” could happen a couple of decades or a few years from now. This could adversely affect investors in the oil industry, who might be at risk of losing their investments if peak oil happens faster than expected. JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade, described this potential scenario in a statement to CNN. “Look at what happened to the coal industry. You have to keep that in the back of your mind and be vigilant. It can turn very, very quickly,” the strategist said.

Paul Sankey of Mizuho Securities previously mentioned that a “Tesla Effect” is starting to be felt in the oil markets. According to the analyst, the Tesla Effect is an increasingly prevalent concept today which states that while the 20th century was driven by oil, the 21st century will be driven by electricity. This, together with the growing movements against climate change today, does not bode well for the oil industry. Adam White, an equity strategist at SunTrust Advisory, stated that investors might not be looking at the oil market with optimism anymore. “A lot of damage has already been done. People are jaded towards the industry,” he said.

Prospective oil developments have been fraudulently overvalued, as claimed by a Complaint filed against Exxon. (Photo: Pixabay)

An analysis from Barclays points to the world’s reliance on oil peaking somewhere between 2030 and 2035, provided that countries keep to their low-carbon goals. The investment bank also noted that peak oil could happen as early as 2025 if more aggressive climate change initiatives are adopted on a wider scale. This all but makes investments in oil stocks very risky in the 2020s, and this risk gets amplified if electric vehicles become more mainstream. Sverre Alvik of research firm DNV GL described this concern. “By 2030, oil shareholders will feel the impact. Electric vehicles are likely to cause light vehicle oil demand to plunge by nearly 50% by 2040,” Alvik said.

Some of today’s prolific oil producers appear to be making the necessary preparations for peak oil’s inevitable decline. Amidst pressures from shareholders, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and Total have expanded their operations into solar, wind, and electric charging, seemingly as a means to future-proof themselves. On the flipside, there are also big oil players that are ramping their activities. Earlier this month, financial titan Warren Buffet, who recently expressed his skepticism towards Elon Musk’s plan of introducing an insurance service for Tesla’s electric cars, committed $10 billion to Occidental Petroleum, one of the largest oil and gas exploration companies in the United States.

A POINT OF NO RETURN

The auto industry is now at a point where a real transition towards electrification is happening. Tesla’s efforts over the years, from the original Roadster to the Model 3, have played a huge part in this transition. Tesla, as well as its CEO, Elon Musk, have awakened the public’s eye about the viability of electric cars, while showing the auto industry that there is a demand for good, well-designed EVs. Nevertheless, Tesla still has a long journey ahead of it, as the company ramps its activities in the energy storage sector. If Tesla Energy mobilizes and becomes as disruptive as the company’s electric car division, it would deal yet another blow to the oil industry.

At this point, it is pertinent for veteran automakers that have released their own electric cars to ensure that they do not stop. Legacy car makers had long talked the talk when it came to electric vehicles, but today, it is time to walk the walk. German automaker Volkswagen could be a big player in this transition, as hinted at by the reception of its all-electric car, the ID.3. The ID.3 launch was successful, with Volkswagen getting 10,000 preorders for the vehicle in just 24 hours. The German carmaker should see this as writing on the wall: the demand for EVs is there.

The Volkswagen ID.3. (Credit: Volkswagen)

The Volkswagen ID.3 is not as quick or sleek as a Tesla Model 3, nor does it last as long on the road between charges. But considering its price point and its badge, it does not have to be. Volkswagen states that the ID.3 will be priced below 40,000 euros ($45,000) in Germany, which should make it attainable for car buyers in the country.  If done right, the ID.3 could be the second coming of the Beetle, ultimately becoming a car that redeems the company from the stigma of the Dieselgate scandal. Thus, it would be a great shame if Volkswagen drops the ball on the ID.3.

Tesla will likely remain a divisive company for years to come; Elon Musk, even more so. Nevertheless, Tesla and what it stands for is slowly becoming an idea, one that connotes hope for something better and cleaner for the future. And if history’s victories and tragedies are any indication, once something becomes an idea, an intangible concept, it becomes impossible to kill.

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Tony Seba, Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Author and Thought Leader, Lecturer at Stanford University, Keynote The reinvention and connection between infrastructure and mobility will fundamentally disrupt the clean transport model.

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