Carbon nanotube catalyst to improve fuel cell endurance

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Cost and performance limitations have kept fuel cell-powered unmanned air vehicles within the military domain, but new catalyst technology could see this situation end.

With support from the US Air Force Research Laboratory's materials and manufacturing directorate, the University of Dayton has developed a nitrogen-doped carbon nanotube (CNT)-based catalyst. Fuel cells require a catalyst as part of their electrodes. To date platinum has been used for the most popular cell type, the polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM). The PEM is popular because it provides a higher specific power density than other designs. But platinum is expensive and it becomes less effective as a catalyst over time, compounding the cost issue.

The Dayton researchers found the nitrogen-doped CNT catalyst could be cheaper and work better than platinum in providing long-term fuel cell power.

"The goal is to reduce the major cost of a fuel cell to compete with current market technologies. Our finding is a major breakthrough toward commercialisation of fuel cell technology for various applications," says the University of Dayton's Wright Brothers Institute's nanomaterials chairman Liming Dai.

The work also involved Dayton's departments of chemical and materials engineering and the University of Akron's department of mechanical engineering.