The U.S transportation sector - consisting of cars, trucks, buses, and rail, marine, and air transport - accounts for over 20% of America's energy use. This energy is often in the form of fossil fuels, so the need to find alternative, environment friendly forms of fuel is on the rise.
Yushan Yan, at the wheel of a fuel cell vehicle, is conducting research on the use of nickel as a catalyst in an alkaline electrolyte that promises to bring down the cost of hydrogen fuel cells (Photo credit: Jie Zheng and Kathy F. Atkinson)
Two potential fuel sources for cars are fuel cells, which convert the chemical energy of hydrogen into electricity, and rechargeable batteries.
Yushan Yan from the University of Delaware believes that one day fuel cells will become the most popular option.
Both fuel cells and batteries are clean technologies that have their own sets of challenges for commercialization. The key difference, however, is that the problems facing battery cars, such as short driving range and long battery charging time, are left with the customers. By contrast, fuel cell cars demand almost no change in customer experience because they can be charged in less than 5 minutes and be driven for more than 300 miles in one charge. And these challenges, such as hydrogen production and transportation, lie with the engineers.
Yushan Yan, Engineering Professor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Yan is aware that the biggest challenge fuel cells face is the cost, and he has some solutions. With his team he revealed a method that promises to lower the cost of hydrogen fuel cells. The team suggest the replacement of platinum catalysts, which are expensive, with catalysts made from inexpensive metals such as nickel. The research findings were published in the January 14
th issue of Nature Communications journal.
This new hydroxide exchange membrane fuel cell can offer high performance at an unprecedented low cost. Our real hope is that we can put hydroxide exchange membrane fuel cells into cars and make them truly affordable — maybe $23,000 for a Toyota Mirai. Once the cars themselves are more affordable, that will drive development of the infrastructure to support the hydrogen economy.
Yan, Engineering Professor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
The research paper titled “Nickel Supported on Nitrogen-doped Carbon Nanotubes as Hydrogen Oxidation Reaction Catalyst in Alkaline Electrolyte,” was co-authored by Zhongbin Zhuang at the Beijing University of Chemical Technology and UD’s Stephen Giles, Jie Zheng, Glen Jenness, Stavros Caratzoulas and Dionisios Vlachos.
The ARPA-E program of the U.S. Department of Energy under Award Number DE-AR0000009 supported this research. Finance for the computational work was provided by the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences under Award Number DE-SC0001004.
The research used resources of the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, a DOE Office of Science User Facility supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy under Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231.
A fellowship from the University of Delaware Energy Institute supported Stephen Giles.