Fuel Cells Finally Showing Promise? – Part Two

Continued from Part One.

The Costliness of Catalysts

To date, the use of PGM catalysts have made the up-front cost of fuel cells and the refurbishment of the devices over their life far too expensive to be widely adopted, but Acal Energy in the UK has developed a low-cost liquid catalyst that can be continuously regenerated, dramatically reducing the up-front and life-cycle costs.

Meanwhile, ITM Power has developed a hydrogen-fuel-generating unit that is entirely safe contained except for a supply of electricity and water. Ben Graziano, technology commercialization manager at the Carbon Trust, said between them the two technologies could help the industry be worth up to $1 billion in the UK and $26 billion globally by 2020, and up to $19 billion in the UK and $180 billion globally by 2050.

Grandstanding? Yes, probably, but the prize of affordable, low-emissions power is so valuable, maybe we can forgive the hyperbole. Fuel-cell automobiles and power generators for homes and businesses have far greater credibility than electric cars and windmills — if they can be brought to market at comparable cost.

I, for one, would sooner see my hard-earned tax receipts spent subsidizing (if they have to be spent in such a way) fuel cells that will allow me to travel longer distances, quietly, without emitting more than heat and water vapor, and with the prospect of 5-minute-stop refueling stations at the same location as current filling stations, rather than subsidizing electric cars that can’t do more than about 80 miles between re-charges and precious few charging points being available — even within cities, never mind in the countryside.

The numbers have yet to support the hype, but although we’re metals nerds, we say that if replacing PGMs by non-metallic compounds is the step that finally brings fuel cells to commercial reality, then we’ll see that as a welcome outcome.

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  • Sorry guys, but after so much research effort directed at finding alternatives to PGMs I am sceptical. Also, important to remember that if an alternative is found, patents will significantly slow wider adoption of the new material technology across the whole market. Reducing platinum content per cell is the best bet for cost reduction.


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