In a bid to unlock the full potential of hydrogen fuel cells as a cleaner alternative to conventional energy sources, researchers from the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Stanford University, and the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) have made significant strides in reducing the cost of fuel cell technology.

The breakthrough involves a radical shift in the catalyst composition, traditionally reliant on expensive platinum group metals (PGM), according to an SLAC release.

Catalyst revolution: Silver takes the lead

Hydrogen fuel cells have long been recognized for their promise in energy storage and conversion, but the prohibitive cost of PGMs in the catalyst has hindered widespread adoption. Michaela Burke Stevens, associate scientist with SLAC and Stanford University, explained, “Hydrogen fuel cells have really great potential for energy storage and conversion, using hydrogen as an alternative fuel to, say, gasoline. But it’s still fairly expensive to run a fuel cell.”

The team’s innovative approach involves replacing some costly PGMs with a more economical alternative: silver. However, the real breakthrough lies in simplifying the chemical process of applying the catalyst to the cell’s electrodes. The conventional method of mixing the catalyst into a liquid and spreading it onto the mesh electrode proved inconsistent in real-world applications. Tom Jaramillo, director of SUNCAT, commented, “Wet chemical processes are not particularly resilient concerning laboratory conditions.”

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