Lehigh researchers have collaborated with colleagues in China and at three national laboratories in the United States to develop a gold-based catalyst that they believe could improve the performance and efficiency of fuel cells that run on hydrogen.
Writing in Science magazine, the group said its catalyst—comprising raft-like gold nanoparticles on a special type of molybdenum-carbide (α-MoC) substrate—had achieved a high level of activity at low temperatures while producing the pure streams of hydrogen necessary to power fuel cells.
The researchers said they achieved their results by utilizing the water-gas shift (WGS) reaction, which converts carbon monoxide (CO) and water into hydrogen (H2) and carbon dioxide (CO2). The group was able to purify the hydrogen by using up all available CO, which tends to deactivate fuel-cell catalysts. The WGS reaction, which is typically used to make hydrogen for the manufacture of chemicals like ammonia, is also a critical part of the effort to transition from hydrocarbon-based fuels to hydrogen.
“Our reaction produces a stream of highly pure hydrogen which isn’t contaminated with CO, which if present would poison the catalysts within the fuel cell,” said Christopher J. Kiely, the Harold B. Chambers Senior Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Lehigh. “We’re really excited by this development because it brings us a step closer to having cars that run on hydrogen fuel cells.”