Platinum will not be an issue with hydrogen cars

by Greg Blencoe on November 5, 2009

Platinum

A common criticism of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is the amount of expensive platinum that is needed in fuel cells.

However, platinum use in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles has already decreased a lot and will get down to the same level as vehicles on the road today. Moreover, a lot of work is being done on platinum-free fuel cells.

Platinum is used in catalytic converters in vehicles today. Furthermore, the platinum from catalytic converters and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can be recycled.

GM using much less platinum in fuel cells

Here is an excerpt from an Automobilemag.com article titled “GM Continues Progress on Hydrogen Fuel Cells” that was published on May 21st which includes a quote from Jon Bereisa who is Director of GM’s Fuel Cell Propulsion program:

“Bereisa told us some particulars about the Gen VI fuel cell, ‘Now we’ve got the size down to where it can fit into a compact car. It’s much smaller than what you just drove. Plus we’re using a lot less platinum in the fuel cell stack, so cost is down. But we’re able to deliver more range – around 300 miles – because we’ve got more cells in the stack.’”

Matt Fronk, former Director of the GM Fuel Cell Research Lab in Honeoye Falls, New York, wrote a guest essay that was published in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle on April 5th.

The title of the essay is “Area GM research into fuel cell development moving forward.” Matt Fronk discusses all of the progress that has been made with the GM hydrogen fuel cell program.

(Note: Unfortunately, the article is no longer up on the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle website.)

A person posted a comment on the article criticizing the cost of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Here is an excerpt from Matt Fronk’s response:

“One of the main reasons GM continues to work on FCs (fuel cells) is that we see a path to cost. Much of the cost today that people predict not falling is due to high levels of Pt (platinum). There are ways to push this way down and get to comparable levels as next generation automobiles.”

Platinum-free fuel cells

Moreover, fuel cells may eventually not contain any platinum.

Three examples of organizations working on platinum-free fuel cells include Wuhan University (China), Nisshinbo, and Monash University (Australia). Furthermore, the following CleanTechnica article that was published on August 23rd mentions that Full Cycle Energy, Oxford University, and Lilliputian are also working on platinum-free fuel cells.

I believe all of the car companies with strong hydrogen programs are almost certainly working on platinum-free fuel cells. However, they are all very secretive about their fuel cell R&D programs, so this information is not readily available to the general public.

For example, Toyota started their in-house hydrogen fuel cell vehicle program back in 1992. Furthermore, Toyota invests nearly $1 million PER HOUR on research and development of future technologies. I can only imagine the advancements Toyota has made on low-platinum and platinum-free hydrogen fuel cells.

The only quote I have of a car company acknowledging that they are working on platinum-free fuel cells is from Larry Burns who was the Vice President of R&D and Strategic Planning for GM. It is from an article that was published back in November 2006 in the Korea Herald.

Here is the excerpt from the article:

“GM is striving to minimize the requirement of the costly platinum used in its hydrogen fuel cell vehicle to cut production costs for commercialization.

‘The key is to spread platinum on the fuel cell membrane as evenly as possible via a catalyst-thrift technology to meet cost and durability targets,’ Burns said. ‘We are also investing in other materials that can replace platinum.’”

Conclusion

Due to the reasons mentioned above, the amount of platinum that is used in fuel cells is not expected to be a problem for hydrogen cars in the future.

[Photo credit: 91RS]

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