Feeds

Texan boffin fixin' to make cheaper fuel cells

Joins Honda camp in opposition to Toyota, Google

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Just as it appears that hydrogen fuel-cell powered cars may be about to go mainstream, Texas-based researchers believe they have developed a way of producing automotive fuel cells more cheaply.

Under most forms of fuel-cell car design, hydrogen from the car's tanks reacts with oxygen from the air. Rather than simply burning the hydrogen in a combustion engine to produce heat which is turned into mechanical work relatively inefficiently - like the BMW Hydrogen 7 demo vehicle or the new special-forces strato-droids - a fuel cell converts the energy of the reaction directly into electric power.

This means a fuel cell car gets a lot more effort out of a given amount of hydrogen than a normal combustion-engined job. As a result, it doesn't need to carry as much to have decent range, which means the fuel doesn't need to be in relatively compact cryogenic liquid storage. This in turn mitigates the issue of "boil-off", perhaps the greatest Achilles heel of the Hydrogen 7. The Beemer's fuel all boils away in a matter of days, potentially converting any garage in which it might be parked into a large fuel-air bomb.

On the other hand, fuel cells are expensive. One reason for this is that they rely on platinum catalyst to work. According to assistant prof Peter Strasser of the University of Houston, a fuel cell car using current technology normally needs 0.5 to 0.8 grams of platinum per kilowatt of output.

Platinum sells, apparently, for $26 per gram or a tad more, which means that a 115-horsepower fuel-cell stack like that in a 2006 Honda FCX contains $2,000 to $3,000 worth of platinum. Then you need to add all the other materials, manufacturing, a largish battery for peak power and efficiency, and the electric drive itself.

A regular petrol engine costs about $3,000, so the platinum costs are a serious issue for fuel cell cars. But Strasser thinks he and his team in Texas have gone some way towards cracking the problem.

"We have found a low platinum alloy that we pre-treat in a special way to make it very active for the reaction of oxygen to water on the surface of our catalyst," he said.

Strasser even believes that his new alloy, as well as being cheaper than platinum, could be more durable.

"Initial results show that durability is improved over pure platinum, but only longer-term testing can tell," he said. The team's research is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

According to the university press release: "Strasser hopes companies will begin introducing fuel cell-powered cars within the next decade."

He's in luck, then. Honda has just announced that its latest FCX will go on sale next year.

But other noted tech companies don't like the hydrogen car plan for the future; bot-vs-bot ad firm Google, for instance, prefers "plug-in hybrid" augmented battery car technology, as favoured by Toyota. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Bond villains lament as Wicked Lasers withdraw death ray
Want to arm that shark? Better get in there quick
Renewable energy 'simply WON'T WORK': Top Google engineers
Windmills, solar, tidal - all a 'false hope', say Stanford PhDs
The next big thing in medical science: POO TRANSPLANTS
Your brother's gonna die, kid, unless we can give him your, well ...
SEX BEAST SEALS may be egging each other on to ATTACK PENGUINS
Boffin: 'I think the behaviour is increasing in frequency'
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Britain's HUMAN DNA-strewing Moon mission rakes in £200k
3 days, and Kickstarter moves lander 37% nearer takeoff
Reuse the Force, Luke: SpaceX's Elon Musk reveals X-WING designs
And a floating carrier for recyclable rockets
Simon's says quantum computing will work
Boffins blast algorithm with half a dozen qubits
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
5 critical considerations for enterprise cloud backup
Key considerations when evaluating cloud backup solutions to ensure adequate protection security and availability of enterprise data.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Getting ahead of the compliance curve
Learn about new services that make it easy to discover and manage certificates across the enterprise and how to get ahead of the compliance curve.