An issue for many modern technology industries is the availability of certain raw materials. While silicon is relatively easy to acquire, materials like gold are much harder to find and their price demonstrates that. Platinum is even more rare than gold but is also very important as a catalyst for many reactions, including those in fuel cells. Researchers at Brown University though have found a non-platinum catalyst that may actually be able to replace the element, while being much cheaper to produce.
This new catalyst was made by mixing solutions of graphene and cobalt nanoparticles. After sound waves thoroughly mixed the particles together to make sure there was an even coating of cobalt on the graphene, the nanoparticles were removed from solution using a centrifuge. Exposure to air oxidized some of the cobalt to produce cobalt-oxide, and by manipulating the heating of the particles, the thickness of the cobalt-oxide layer could be controlled so it was at the optimal thickness of 1 nm.
There is still a fair amount of work to be done before this material could be used in commercial fuel cells, but it is already showing great promise. Tests have found that while it did take longer to get going than a platinum catalyst, once the process was started, the graphene-cobalt catalyst was faster than the more expensive platinum solution. Hopefully those additional tests before it can replace platinum will also find ways to improve it further.