Nanowires Could Improve Fuel Cells...Not Make them Commercially Viable

The commercial fate of fuel cells has little to do with improving the catalysts with nanomaterials

2 min read

I read today  a report  on recent research out of the University of Rochester in which long, platinum nanowires were used as catalysts in fuel cells.


Now that it has been more or less firmly established that carbon nanotubes are not particularly useful for hydrogen storage, it's time for nanomaterials to get back to their roots when it comes to fuel cells and for work to continue in improving the catalysts.


That's all well and good, but do we have to accompany this research with statements that are simply not  true like "People have been working on developing fuel cells for decades. But the technology is still not being commercialized," says James C. M. Li, the lead researcher of the projected in the piece cited above.  The article even clarifies this idea by saying "...fuel cells, which have until now been used largely for such exotic purposes as powering spacecraft."


I think what they must be getting at is that portable fuel cells have not developed into much of a commercial market because quite to the contrary I can point them into the direction of entire database of installed, stationary fuel cells around the globe.


It's time for a bit of honest talk. Various nanomaterials have demonstrated themselves at being pretty effective catalysts for fuel cells for some time now. It's not that new. But improving the catalysts is not the stumbling block for the wider commercial adoption of portable fuel cells for either your automobile or your laptop. In the former, the cost of producing hydrogen to supply the fuel cells remains prohibitively expensive and there is no infrastructure for a distribution network. In the latter, try to imagine getting past airline security with a half litre of methanol attached to the back of the laptop.


Yes, platinum is expensive and drives the cost of fuel cell pretty high, but in the list of obstacles facing the wider adoption of portable fuel cells, I would not put this at the top.

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