DOE develops an ethanol Fuel Cell catalyst

  • Upton (NY) - Scientists working for the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory say they've developed a new catalyst which could make feasible ethanol-powered fuel cells. This step forward in fuel cell research marks a step further forward in developing clean, renewable energy sources.

    This new catalyst, developed in collaboration with researchers from the University of Delaware and Yeshiva University, provides for what the DOE says are two crucial and previously unreachable steps needed to oxidize ethanol. Their catalyst, made of platinum and rhodium atoms on carbon-supported tin dioxide nanoparticles, is capable of breaking carbon bonds at room temperature and efficiently oxidizing ethanol into carbon dioxide as the main reaction product.

    "Ethanol is one of the most ideal reactants for fuel cells," said Brookhaven chemist Radoslav Adzic. "It's easy to produce, renewable, nontoxic, relatively easy to transport, and it has a high energy density. In addition, with some alterations, we could reuse the infrastructure that's currently in place to store and distribute gasoline."

    A historical blockade to the commercial use of direct ethanol fuel cells is the molecule's slow and inefficient oxidation, said the DOE. Scientists have been unable to find a catalyst capable of breaking the bonds between ethanol's carbon atoms. Researchers say the workaround they developed came courtesy of using X-ray absorption techniques and data from transmission electron microscopy analyses.

    "These findings can open new possibilities of research not only for electrocatlysts and fuel cells but also for many other catalytic processes," Adzic said.


    by Rick C. Hodgin

    Why doesn't someone develop a catalyst to break down the atomic bonds between hydrogen and oxygen atoms in water (or salt water)? Then we would have a truly clean source of power that is about as free as anything could be on this Earth.

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