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Conventional PEMFC electrodes are made from platinum nanoparticles deposited onto carbon. However, because the structure is so complex, the process is less than optimal, wasting precious platinum. CEA scientists developed a new carbon-free electrode architecture that could reduce the amount of platinum required and improve performance and durability.
They came up with a novel structure in which platinum nanoparticles are assembled into an organized set of nanotubes (hollow tubes measuring 50 nm in diameter and 400 nm to 500 nm in length). These self-supporting, carbon-free nanostructures were observed to be more active and stable than those used in conventional electrodes. Adding nickel further improved reaction speeds and reduced current losses.
Research on these new electrodes is still in its early stages and scaling up the technology for manufacturing is still far away. In the meantime, they will be very useful in the lab, both in terms of understanding how PEMFCs work and identifying new research and development topics. The active surface of the platinum is still insufficient, a problem that future research will have to address. The cost of the processes used to make the electrodes will also have to be reduced.
CEA is a French government-funded technological research organisation in four main areas: low-carbon energies, defense and security, information technologies and health technologies. A prominent player in the European Research Area, it is involved in setting up collaborative projects with many partners around the world.