A great many of the technologies we use today rely on rare and expensive materials, like indium and platinum. Platinum especially is used as a catalyst in many devices, such as catalytic converters and fuel cells of all kinds. For Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) the platinum can account for as much as 60% of the entire cost, but researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee have discovered a potential replacement that is cheaper, but just as efficient.
Nitrogen-enriched iron-carbon nanorods combine elements of other successful catalysts, to make something more effective than current contenders for a platinum replacement. This could be a major step for the development and marketing of MFCs and the related technology, Microbial Electrolysis Cells (MECs). Both MFCs and MECs use bacteria and a catalyst to remove contaminates from wastewater, but they produce different things as a result (except for cleaner water, which they both produce). The fuel cells produce an electric current that can be directly harnessed while MECs produce hydrogen gas which can be used for many things, such as fuel for other fuel cells.
This specific catalyst may not be what ultimately replaces platinum in these devices, but it might lead us to that material. By showing that nanorods can be used as an effective catalyst, other research teams may investigate other varieties of the nanostructure, and find something even better.