Storing Green Energy Just Became a Bit Easier and Cheaper

Scientists throughout the world are seeking ways to develop greener power sources. Both solar and wind energy solutions are great alternatives to fossil fuels when conditions are sunny or windy, but figuring out how to store energy for use when the weather doesn’t comply is the big challenge. 

Hydrogen fuel cells have great potential for energy storage and conversion, but they remain highly expensive to operate. Now thanks to a collaboration between scientists at the Technion and Stanford University, a major obstacle has been overcome. 

“This solution has great benefits for the research of fuel cells in academia as well as for practical catalyst development in the fuel cell industry,” said Professor Dario Dekel, a chemical engineer and director of the Nancy and Stephen Grand Technion Energy Program. 

The main obstacle is that the catalyst relies on expensive platinum group metals (PGMs) to boost the chemical reaction. Scientists often discover other catalysts that work in the lab but then don’t work so well in a real-world fuel cell. Additionally, methods of applying the catalyst recipes onto the cell’s electrodes often differ from lab to lab and are difficult to replicate when manufacturing. 

The Stanford researchers replaced some PGMs with silver and simplified the chemical recipe. They used a vacuum chamber for more controlled deposits of the catalyst onto the electrodes.  

To ensure that others could reproduce their approach and apply it directly to full-scale fuel cells, the team worked with Prof. Dekel’s group at the Technion. The Technion facility allowed for real-world testing and the researchers were able to show that the method worked in a practical fuel cell.  

Together, the two teams found that by substituting cheaper silver for some of the PGMs, they could achieve an equally effective fuel cell with a much lower price tag. Now that they have a proven method of developing catalysts and testing fuel cells, they can start testing more ambitious ideas.