Jun 24, 2019 | Updated: 04:51 PM EDT

Study Finds Nickel is A Highly Effective Electrocatalyst to Stabilize Fuel Cells

Jun 06, 2017 04:08 PM EDT

A hydrogen fuel cell range extender from Intelligent Energy is displayed at the Paris Las Vegas on Sep.  7, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
(Photo : Ethan Miller/Getty Images) A recent study from Purdue University has found the electrocatalyst nanostructures is the key element for improvement of fuel cells and electrolyzers.

Purdue University scientists found the key element to improving fuel cells and electrolyzers are the electrocatalyst nanostructures. The research has unveiled the mystery of electrocatalyst.

The team of scientists led by the Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at Davidson School of Chemical Engineering at the Purdue University, Jeffrey Greeley Ph.D. has discovered the function of electrocatalyst to improve fuel cells and its electrolyzers. In the news release from Purdue, the chemical reactions in fuel cells which often become unstable can be stabilized with the electrocatalyst nanostructures made of nickel.

“It turned out to be quite a surprise,” Professor Greeley said in awe of nickel to become the electrocatalyst nanostructures. “The reactions led to very stable structures that we would not predict by just looking at the properties of nickel.”

Professor Greeley and his team, which works at the Argonne National Laboratory facility, discovered that a nickel in the platinum substrate had the potential to become electrocatalyst. The nickel contained electrocatalyst nanostructures that created stable and active chemical reactions in the fuel cells. The finding has been published in the Nature Energy Journal.

Furthermore, Greeley and team tried different thickness and diameter to find the exact condition for electrocatalyst nanostructures. They also tested the variety of voltages and pH level in the cells. They found that the thickness of one or two atomic layers of nickel is the perfect size for the electrocatalyst nanostructures.

The key in achieving electrocatalyst nanostructures condition is an ultra-thin layer of nickel. The nickel with that condition is at the point where the two metals come together and all the electrochemical activity occurs. Besides creating the catalyst, the thickness of a nickel also prevent the oxidation and provide stability.

The fuel cell works using a chemical reaction to produce energy, while the electrolyzers convert the energy into hydrogen or other gases. In doing that process, a stable catalyst is needed to promote the chemical reaction, and an electrocatalyst nanostructure is an answer to provide a stable catalyst.

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