December 20, 2011

Atomic layer deposition or fuel cells needs 60 per cent less costly catalyst

cheaper method of manufacturing fuel cells. A noble metal nanoparticle catalyst for fuel cells is prepared using atomic layer deposition (ALD).This ALD method for manufacturing fuel cells requires 60 per cent less of the costly catalyst than current methods.

This is a significant discovery, because researchers have not been able to achieve savings of this magnitude before with materials that are commercially available, says Docent Tanja Kallio of Aalto University.

In the future, when production costs can be lowered, fuel cells are expected to power electric vehicles and replace batteries, among other things. Despite their high price, fuel cells have already been used for a long time to produce energy in isolated environments, such as space crafts. These results are based on preliminary testing with fuel cell anodes using a palladium catalyst. Commercial production could start in 5-10 years

Journal of Physical Chemistry C - Atomic Layer Deposition Preparation of Pd Nanoparticles on a Porous Carbon Support for Alcohol Oxidation

The most commonly used fuel cells cover anode with expensive noble metal powder which reacts well with the fuel. By using the Aalto University researchers’ ALD method, this cover can be much thinner and more even than before which lowers costs and increases quality.

With this study, researchers are developing better alcohol fuel cells using methanol or ethanol as their fuel. It is easier to handle and store alcohols than commonly used hydrogen. In alcohol fuel cells, it is also possible to use palladium as a catalyst.

The most common catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells is platinum, which is twice as expensive as palladium. This means that alcohol fuel cells and palladium will bring a more economical product to the market.

Fuel cells can create electricity that produces very little or even no pollution. They are highly efficient, making more energy and requiring less fuel than other devices of equal size. They are also quiet and require low maintenance, because there are no moving parts.

To reduce the loading of noble metals on fuel cell catalysts a synthesis method providing evenly distributed nanoparticles on the support surface is needed. Narrow size distribution palladium nanoparticles were prepared on a porous carbon support by atomic layer deposition (ALD), and their activity for ethanol and isopropanol oxidation was studied electrochemically in alkaline media. Palladium particles had smaller average particle sizes on the support material resulting in 50 mV lower onset potential and 2.5 times higher mass activity for alcohol oxidation compared with a commercial catalyst. The results indicate that the use of ALD allows the preparation of a noble metal nanoparticle catalyst, and this catalyst can provide similar mass activity with lower catalyst loading than current commercial fuel cell catalysts. This would significantly reduce the cost of the cell and provide a competitive advantage compared with other power sources.

2 pages of supplemental material

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