A UB research team is focused on a long-sought goal: to develop a catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells that is efficient, cheap and durable.
Imagine if large gas- and diesel-powered trucks emitted water vapor from their tail pipes rather than carbon dioxide. That is the promise of hydrogen as a source of clean energy.
Gang Wu, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, has worked to fulfill this promise for nearly two decades. He is now one step closer thanks to a $3 million grant from the United States Department of Energy’s Hydrogen Shot, an initiative to advance hydrogen as a fuel source and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“Developing clean energy is the most important thing we can do for the future of human civilization,” says Wu.
Hydrogen fuel cells create electricity that powers an electric engine. Filling the tank of a hydrogen-fueled car is similar to the process at a gas station: a pump and nozzle system fills the tank in just a few minutes.
Although there are thousands of hydrogen-powered cars on the road, finding a fueling station is difficult due to the high cost to produce hydrogen fuel. The price is high because the fuel cells require platinum—a rare metal—as a catalyst to produce electrical power.
“The concept of a hydrogen fuel cell is simple. Developing the catalyst that meets the goal — efficient, cheap and durable — is the challenge,” says Wu, whose lab recently created a promising catalyst made of platinum and cobalt.
Under the new grant, Wu will build on that work by investigating the benefits of adding a third element, carbon, to the catalyst. If successful, the new catalyst could help expand infrastructure for a hydrogen fueling system utilized by heavy-duty trucks, a significant contributor of air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions.