Monday, October 19, 2009

It's All In the Texture: Methanol Fuel Cell Catalysis

MIT, JIST, and BNL researchers have combined to advance the cause of methanol fuel cells by devising a textured platinum fuel cell electrode.
A team of researchers from MIT, the Japan Institute of Science and Technology, and Brookhaven National Laboratory have found that changing the surface texture of platinum used in a methanol fuel cell electrode—specifically, creating nano surface steps instead of using a smooth surface—can significantly increase the catalytic activity.

In a paper published online 13 October in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, they show a linear relationship between the intrinsic activity and the amounts of surface steps. Increasing surface steps on Pt nanoparticles of ~2 nm led to enhanced intrinsic activity up to 200% (current normalized to Pt surface area) for electro-oxidation of methanol.

The researchers believe that further development of these surface structures could end up producing far greater increases, yielding more electric current for a given amount of platinum. _GCC
Such an approach may seem intuitively obvious to those who understand the relationship between surface area and catalytic activity, but I suppose highly specialised researchers take more time to realise the obvious.

Regardless, methanol fuel cells are potentially one of the most important advances in the race to develop alternatives to fossil fuel transportation and electricity. The sooner they are perfected the better.

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