Researchers at Monash University are partway to developing a cheaper, longer-lasting hydrogen fuel cell by substituting a conductive plastic for traditional platinum electrodes.
Scientists from the Melbourne-based university's Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science published their findings in the Aug. 1 edition of the international research journal Science.
Their breakthrough involves substituting platinum electrodes with ones containing an extremely thin layer of the conductive polymer poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene), know as PEDOT.
Research team member Bjorn Winther-Jensen said the PEDOT was applied to strips of the microscopically porous material Gore-Tex, the same material used in U.S.-made water-resistant but breathable outdoor clothing.
A layer of PEDOT just 0.4 of a micron thick, or about 100 times thinner than a human hair, is deposited on the breathable fabric and the conductive plastic acts as both the fuel cell electrode and catalyst.
Winther-Jensen said the new electrode could substitute for platinum in the components of hydrogen fuel cells that reduced oxygen to hydroxide. But they could not be used in the parts of the cell that oxidized hydrogen. ``We don't have an answer for the hydrogen side yet. It could be several years away,'' he said.
Winther-Jensen said platinum is rare and expensive, which makes the plastic substitute attractive to manufacturers of fuel cells and vehicles.
``Even if every new car produced in the world had a hydrogen fuel cell, there is only enough platinum for 5 percent of them,'' he said.
He said platinum in fuel cells accounted for about A$4,000 ($3,500) of a vehicle's price tag with the alternative, plastic-based electrodes likely to be just a fraction of the cost.