One of the potential replacements of combustion-based power systems is hydrogen fuel cells. These devices generate an electric current from fuels such as hydrogen but are limited in that they require expensive materials including platinum. This is why researchers are working to develop new materials to replace or minimize the use of platinum without comprising performance, which is what researchers at IBN have achieved.
The researchers created a nanocomposite material that replaces the inner volume of the normally solid platinum catalyst with a gold-copper alloy. Only the outer surface is made of platinum, which is still more expensive than the alloy. Because the molecules of the alloy are smaller than platinum though, it pulls the platinum atoms closer together. This compression has the effect of actually improving the efficiency of the catalyst from 0.109 amps per milligram for commercial platinum catalysts, to 0.571 amps per milligram.
There are still several challenges to overcome before fuel cells can really take off as a mainstream power source, but reducing the cost of such devices is a step in the right direction. Increasing the efficiency of the device at the same time is a real bonus too and hopefully it can be pushed even further.