Modified Nanomaterials can Replace Platinum in Cathodes for Transportation Fuel Cells


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Scientists from Texas’ Rice University revealed that carbon nanomaterials, when optimized, can replace the expensive cathodes platinum used in electricity-generating fuel cells that are usually used in transportation.

Based on the Rice study, the researchers modified the nanomaterials for fuel-cell cathodes, an electrode where the electricity flows out of.  The Rice University group, including theoretical physicist Boris Yakobson, explained that they looked for a way to speed the overall response rate for the fuel cells. These fuel cells are the ones discovered in the 19th century and are widely used in the 20th century. Since then, it has powered different transportation models, ranging from spacecraft, buses, and cars.

The scientists also highlighted in their study that they used computer simulations in order to find out why the carbon nanotubes and graphene nanoribbons modified with boron and/or nitrogen are sluggish. They then discovered that chemically modifying the nanoribbons or conductive nanotubes changes their chemical bond. When it does, they can be used as cathodes, wherein they recombine oxygen and return electrons to produce water.

The models also revealed that thinner carbon nanotubes containing high nitrogen concentrations would perform best because the atoms of oxygen readily bond to carbon, which is nearest to the nitrogen.

Rice University’s graduate student and research member Luqing Wang said, “If [the] price is a consideration, it would certainly be competitive,” referring to the configuration that approaches the efficiency of an expensive platinum in cathodes.

This study appears in the learned society journal, The Royal Society of Chemistry.