Laser Ablation of Nanoparticle Catalysts for Low Temperature Fuel Cells

Fuel cells have a great potential to become key components in a future sustainable fossil-free energy system because of their high efficiency and a potential for zero-emissions, in line with
UN Goal 13. They generate electricity from chemical energy stored in a fuel which is released through electrochemical reactions. The proton exchange membrane fuel (PEMFC) is currently the leading low temperature fuel cell type, utilizing polymer electrolyte membranes and carbon supported platinum (Pt) nanoparticle catalysts. It has excellent performance and is used in automotive, stationary and
portable applications. However, both the membrane and catalyst are still expensive, limiting the competitiveness of the technology. The oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) on the cathode side requires high amounts of Pt, which must be reduced to enable the large-scale cell
production. Recent discoveries have identified Pt alloys with rare earth (RE) elements as promising new catalysts which could dramatically reduce the amount of platinum needed [1, 2]. So far, most of research on these alloy catalysts has focused on bulk materials or films. In order to obtain the highest mass activity, nanoparticles of Pt-RE alloys need to be produced. The proposed project will focus on the production of Pt-RE nanoparticles using laser ablation. This is a simple, scalable technique that can efficiently produce large quantities of particles. When produced and subsequently characterised, nanoparticle catalysts will be tested in a real fuel cell to verify their high activity. Highly active Pt-RE nanoparticles have never been fabricated in a scalable and efficient way, nor tested in real fuel cell conditions Thus, this project
represents highly novel research with a high potential impact, both academically and societally.

Specific goals of the project include:

• Fabrication of Pt-RE alloy nanoparticles using laser ablation.
• Detailed material and surface physics analysis of particles using XPS, XRD and high resolution TEM.
• Analysis of ORR activity in real fuel cell measurements

This project will push the efficiency and reduce the amount of platinum needed to run a PEMFC, thus lowering their price. This will enable large scale implementation of fuel cells, especially in the transport sector. A fuel cell is roughly twice as efficient as a combustion engine, so their uptake will help to reduce energy consumption. It also has the potential to greatly reduce carbon dioxide emissions and dependence on fossil fuels.

Start date 01/08/2019

Page manager Published: Wed 07 Aug 2019.