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Researchers find alternative to pure platinum catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells

By
Tauren Dyson
Brookhaven Lab scientists Mingyuan Ge, Iradwikanari Waluyo and Adrian Hunt, pictured left to right, at the IOS beamline, where they studied the growth pathway of an efficient catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells. Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory
Brookhaven Lab scientists Mingyuan Ge, Iradwikanari Waluyo and Adrian Hunt, pictured left to right, at the IOS beamline, where they studied the growth pathway of an efficient catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells. Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory

Dec. 26 (UPI) -- Researchers may have found a more cost-effective way to produce hydrogen fuel cells.

Experts think hydrogen fuel cells can produce clean and renewable energy, but many require expensive platinum-based catalysts to help turn renewable fuels into electrical power.

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But now scientists think they've found an affordable alternative to those platinum catalysts.

"Like a battery, hydrogen fuel cells convert stored chemical energy into electricity. The difference is that you're using a replenishable fuel so, in principle, that 'battery' would last forever," Adrian Hunt, a scientist at the National Synchrotron Light Source II, or NSLS-II, a Brookhaven National Laboratory, said in a press release. "Finding a cheap and effective catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells is basically the holy grail for making this technology more feasible."

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Now, researchers at the University of Akron have developed an alternative to synthesizing catalysts with only platinum. The new solution is made from both nickel and platinum and form octahedral, or eight-sided, nanoparticles. But the researchers are unclear why the catalyst takes this form.

The researchers used the ultrabright x-rays at In situ and Operando Soft X-ray Spectroscopy beamline at the NSLS-II to show the real-time chemical characterization of the catalyst's growth pathway.

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The researchers published their findings in Nature Communications.

"Understanding how the faceted catalyst is formed plays a key role in establishing its structure-property correlation and designing a better catalyst," said Zhenmeng Peng, researcher at University of Akron and study investigator.

"The growth process case for the platinum-nickel system is quite sophisticated, so we collaborated with several experienced groups to address the challenges. The cutting-edge techniques at Brookhaven National Lab were of great help to study this research topic."

More x-ray and electron imaging experiments conducted at the Advanced Photon Source at both Argonne National Laboratory and the University of California-Irvine confirm the results at NSLS-II, the researchers report.

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