Scientists in the US claim to have found a way to turbocharge fuel cells by using a multi-functional catalyst, a development that could pave the way for more powerful non-fossil-fuel vehicles.
Governments around the world have been enshrining laws to reduce carbon emissions - and to phase out diesel and petrol entirely - in the expectation that rechargable electric vehicles will take over.
However, hydrogen fuel cell technology could provide a more viable solution, but the researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology claim that the innovation in this area has been "sluggish".
This comes down to a "chemical bottleneck" in the way that oxygen is produced. However, the scientists claim to have discovered a new nanotechnology that could speed-up production rates.
The researchers said that fuel cells rely on pure hydrogen, but generating it can be an expensive and lengthy process. It is also highly volatile. They described the new catalyst as a "potential game-changer" for the industry.
Meilin Liu, who works at the University's school of material science and engineering, led the project. He said: "It can easily convert chemical fuel into electricity with high efficiency.
"It can let you use readily available fuels like methane or natural gas or just use hydrogen fuel much more efficiently."
To improve efficiency, the catalyst injects oxygen directly into the fuel cell system. Yu Chen, who also worked on the study, said: "It's more than eight times as fast as state-of-the-art materials doing the same thing now."
In this particular project, the researchers focused on solid-oxide fuel cells, which are already being tested in car projects. The catalyst could also prove transformative for solar power technology, though.
Chen said the catalyst can process oxygen at rapid speeds. "It's more than eight times as fast as state-of-the-art materials doing the same thing now," claimed the researcher.
Funded by the US Department of Energy and the Guangdong Innovative and Entrepreneurial Research Programme, the study will be detailed in the next issue of academic journal Joule.
The researchers added: "The oxygen goes down quickly through the channels and enters the fuel cell, where it meets with the ionized hydrogen or another electron donor like methane or natural gas. And the catalyst saves lots of money on fuel and on other things."
News of the development follows on from research proposing new ways in which hydrogen could be more efficiently and safely stored,
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