Researchers discover less-expensive low-temperature catalyst
Engineering researchers at Tufts have found a new technique that could be suitable for on-board hydrogen production in fuel-cell-powered vehicles of the future.
Led by Maria Flytzani-Stephanopoulos, the Robert and Marcy Haber Endowed Professor in Energy Sustainability in the School of Engineering, and Manos Mavrikakis from the University of Wisconsin, the research team demonstrated the low-temperature efficacy of an atomically dispersed platinum catalyst. An alternative to copper, which under certain conditions can ignite spontaneously, the platinum-based catalyst is highly active and stable.
As part of its work, the team determined how and why the catalyst works. “If we want to move to the next stage with cheaper materials that are doing the specific chemical transformations, we need to understand the fundamentals,” says Flytzani-Stephanopoulos.
The researchers’ understanding of the structure and function of the new technique could help manufacturers design highly effective and less costly catalysts.
The U.S. demand for hydrogen is about 9 million tons per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, but only small amounts of hydrogen occur naturally on earth.
Manufacturers produce about 95 percent of the hydrogen used through steam reforming of natural gas, a catalytic process in which steam reacts with methane to yield carbon monoxide and hydrogen. This mixture is known as synthesis gas, or syngas, and is an intermediate in production processes for synthetic fuels, ammonia and methanol, among other compounds.
Another application for hydrogen is fuel for the hydrogen economy, an effort that aims to exploit high-energy-density hydrogen as a cleaner source of energy, particularly for low-temperature fuel-cell-powered devices, including vehicles.
The findings were published in the September 24 issue of the journal Science.