August 5, 2008 A team at the Australian Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science at Monash University in Melbourne has developed a new fuel cell prototype that could pave the way for a generation of much cheaper, more fuel efficient fuel-cells for powering eco-friendly cars. The new fuel cells feature a new cathode made from a conducting polymer rather than the expensive cathodes used in existing fuel cells.
Traditional fuel cells have a cathode which contains platinum nanoparticles - these don’t just sound expensive, with the amount of platinum required for a passenger car worth around AUD$3500 – $4000 (approx USD$3250 -$3700) making up the major cost of the fuel cell. Aside from its high cost, platinum nanoparticles are hard to find and have a tendency to become inactivated by contact with carbon monoxide or by clumping together.
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The team, led by Professor Maria Forsyth developed a new cathode from a conducting polymer called poly(3,4-ethlenedioxythiphene) or PEDOT. Unlike its platinum counterpart, the PEDOT-based electrode did not become inactivated upon being exposed to CO. It was also able to run continuously for 1500 hours and demonstrated oxygen conversion rates similar to those of platinum based electrodes. Forsyth estimates that the cost of a PEDOT-based electrode would only add a few hundred dollars to the price of a vehicle and the technology could also be used in zinc air batteries, which are under development for storing energy in cars.
The researchers will now build a three dimensional fuel cell in order to maximize the surface area available to generate current. Forsyth says that patents are pending on the cathode and the research team is speaking to eco-car manufacturers about their technology.