Fuel cells may say goodbye to platinum catalysts

Aug. 7, 2003
A nickel-tin catalyst may replace platinum in a low-temperature process for making hydrogen fuel from plants.

According to engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the new catalyst, together with a second innovation that purifies hydrogen for use in fuel cells, offers a new method for making the transition from fossil fuels to renewable hydrogen-based power.

"Platinum is very effective but it's also very expensive," says James Dumesic, a professor of chemical and biological engineering. "It's also problematic for large-scale power production because platinum is already in demand for fuel-cell anode and cathode materials," he adds.

The single-step process uses temperature, pressure, and a catalyst to convert hydrocarbons such as glucose. Resulting products consist of 50% hydrogen with the rest being carbon dioxide and gaseous alkanes. More refined molecules, such as ethylene glycol and methanol, almost completely convert to hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Because plants grown as fuel crops absorb the carbon dioxide released by the system, the process is greenhouse-gas neutral. The process takes place in a liquid phase at 440°F without vaporizing water. This is said to represent a major energy savings compared to ethanol production or conventional fossil-fuel-based hydrogen-generation methods that boil away water.

Researchers are trying to create a combined process where the nickel-tin catalyst reforms oxygenated hydrocarbons to produce relatively clean hydrogen. The hydrogen then passes to a second-stage ultrashift catalyst that further purifies it and removes carbon monoxide.

Sponsored Recommendations

MOVI-C Unleashed: Your One-Stop Shop for Automation Tasks

April 17, 2024
Discover the versatility of SEW-EURODRIVE's MOVI-C modular automation system, designed to streamline motion control challenges across diverse applications.

The Power of Automation Made Easy

April 17, 2024
Automation Made Easy is more than a slogan; it signifies a shift towards smarter, more efficient operations where technology takes on the heavy lifting.

Lubricants: Unlocking Peak Performance in your Gearmotor

April 17, 2024
Understanding the role of lubricants, how to select them, and the importance of maintenance can significantly impact your gearmotor's performance and lifespan.

From concept to consumption: Optimizing success in food and beverage

April 9, 2024
Identifying opportunities and solutions for plant floor optimization has never been easier. Download our visual guide to quickly and efficiently pinpoint areas for operational...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Machine Design, create an account today!