Nisshinbo Creates Platinum-Free Carbon Catalyst For Fuel Cells
12 July 2008
Nikkei. Nisshinbo Industries Inc. and the Tokyo Institute of Technology have developed a platinum-free, carbon-based catalyst for fuel cells.
The company hopes to have a practical version of the new catalyst ready in fiscal 2009, and will start by commercializing a product for the electrodes of residential fuel cells. Later, it will develop and commercialize a version for automotive fuel cells.
The new catalyst is made from nanospheres of carbon. For practical purposes as a fuel cell catalyst, 10 times more carbon is required than platinum; but even in this larger volume, the cost is just a 10th that of using platinum.
Solid state will always be more efficient than chemical reactions. A battery will always be more efficient than a fuel cell.
Fuel cells will have their place, but not as a major player in motive energy.
Posted by: The Scoot | 12 July 2008 at 12:46 PM
"Platinum not expensive enough? Well gee, we could always make it out of carbon nanotubes!"
Posted by: David Ahlport | 12 July 2008 at 03:00 PM
ehm, David ... it's carbon nanospheres not carbon nanotubes..
you may accept fuel cells or not, but if you want them to be widespread and cheap you can't rely on platinum
Posted by: Alessio | 12 July 2008 at 04:43 PM
The increasing different versions of fuel cells will have a role to play and no doubt displace ice engies very rapidly once the technology comes of age. Current versions are more about the possible , but this is an example of the steady introduction of doable new forms.
The more bases covered the better different materials, fuels and construction tecniques will make fc,s a consumer item - in time.
I think the main objections come from the misconception that these devices only work on H2. Which in turn is seen as only available rom enormous amounts of Nuclear, fossil or other Non renewable energy. This also is a missconception(When the principle is known to work down to the level of atmospheric concentrations at one extreme and pulverised coal or similar at the other)
In so far as new more efficient sources are being developed at a steady rate.
The question is how soon?
Posted by: arnold | 12 July 2008 at 05:13 PM
When Roger hears about this we'll never hear the end of it. This is still only in the lab and doesn't solve all the other problems with H2 (distribution, storage, infrastructure etc..) Give me an simple BEV please, I already have electricity coming out of the wall.
Posted by: Neil | 12 July 2008 at 07:15 PM
If you know of other sources of energy than H2 and other types of fuel cells that the rest of us are missing, how about sharing this knowledge and some links to good sources so we can learn.
I'd love to learn something new that makes me change my opinion....but at this point it looks like a neat gadget in need of a huge hydrogen infrastructure and lots of fossil sources to produce the H2. If you're talking about water and electrolysis, let's not go down that path unless you have some new news about ways to get more hydrogen out as an energy carrier than the energy that has to be put in to produce it in the first place.
Not trying to be argumentative, and I'm clearly biased towards batteries as the answer. It feels like everything around fuel cells is a distraction that takes resources away from more promising alternatives and gets a bunch of dippy politicians fired up to build a hydrogen economy. They waste as much time and resources on that as the corn to ethanol fiasco.
Posted by: DaveD | 12 July 2008 at 08:09 PM
There is no present source of hydrogen cheaper than steam reforming of hot coal. The extra high temperature nuclear reactors that may be built ten years from now might be able to chemically separate hydrogen from water in two or three steps and produce hydrogen cheaper than it can be from coal. Using windmill or solar cell electricity to make hydrogen for fuel cells is a waste of about half the energy just to begin with. ZEBRA batteries are a much cheaper and more efficient way to save solar and wind energy for later use. The high voltage, direct-current transmission of energy from wind or solar converters can allow for very long buried or undersea cables with far lower loss and cost than conversion to hydrogen and back again. It is great that there is a new catalyst that is not platinum. Lead chemistry EFFPOWER bipolar batteries along with more standard ones with Firefly technology and perhaps Atraverda materials may be more cost effective than LiIon even with more frequent replacement. A car can have two battery packs or more. One of them is designed to be dropped at a service station and a similar replacement picked up. It may have only 6 KWH or 30 miles of energy in it; It can have more as it is designed for energy not power. As in the Prius, the power battery is permanent. Stored and sold like propane, DME or other fuels would be available for a tiny highly efficient backup engine generator that weighs less than twenty pounds. High performance, but not continuous high performance, will then get you any distance at high efficiency. ..HG..
Posted by: Henry Gibson | 12 July 2008 at 10:22 PM
Please be reminded that a FCV is an electric car, and the FC/H2 combination is, in fact, a type of battery that stores its energy source away from the electrodes and electrolytes. So, broadly speaking, a FCV can be considered as a BEV as well.
I've established here in GCC many times that H2 utilization from renewable energy sources is comparable in overall efficiency to battery electricity also derived from renewable energy sources. This is due to the long-term (seasonal)and vast energy storage capability of H2 that Battery electricity cannot match.
Posted by: Roger Pham | 12 July 2008 at 11:22 PM
Roger: What industry do you work in?
I object to the FCV as a way for big oil to keep its claws in us. "... just wait five years and you can have an FCV ... just keep burning gasoline in the mean time ... then we'll spend the billions to provide the infrastructure ... oh by the way we'll have to charge a little extra to recover the cost of all that infrastructure ... just ignore those PHEVs and EVs over there ... you don't really want those anyway ... we'll just buy out a couple of key patents to make sure those horrid things go away ... if your government provides us with enough money we'll figure out all those pesky little problems (like reasonable on-board storage of H2) ... in the mean time just keep burning our gasoline ... please ignore the price at the pump ... peak oil is a myth ... I'm sure the FCV will be ready in another 5 years ... we'll lease out a few because you couldn't actually afford one of these million dollar babies ... in the mean time just keep bidding for our gasoline"
Posted by: Neil | 13 July 2008 at 03:01 AM
it is remarkable that they can replace a material scarce material like platinum by carbon that is so abundant. If it works as a catalyst for a fuel cell it cana probably be used for other catalytic needs. Displacing platinum is really important because supply of platinum is really limited.
Asides, all these progresses on fuel cells don't bring us any closer to an H2 economy. Again, a simple ICE engine run on H2 as efficiently and almost as clean as a fuel cell for much cheaper. The problems of H2 are :production, distribution and storage of H2 as well as the poor well to wheel efficiency that makes the H2 economy a ever moving target ...
Posted by: Treehugger | 13 July 2008 at 08:45 AM
DaveD et al:
This may sound ridiculous but Genepax Co. Ltd (Japan) and Hydrogen Technologies Applications have produced small fuel cells using water and air as fuel. Another research group has produced a mechanical device(membrane) to separate hydrogen from water on a continuous basis.
A 1 Kw Genepax unit installed in your home could produce 24 Kwh/day or just about enough for the average residence.
A similar on-board unit (1000 watt) running continously could supply about 24 KWh a day for a PHEV or BEV, i.e. enough for about 150 Km/day on e-power, if the on-board ESSU can store enough energy. Such vehicle would never have to be plugged in. It would recharge itself within a few hours depending on the size of the on-board water tank and converter/fuel cell.
If low cost hydrogen can ever be produced from water with a small portable unit and the cost of fuel cells can be reduced 10 folds, the world may enetually have a sustainable replacement for liquid fuel ICE + affordable off grid e-power for residential use.
If so (very doubtful), how long would it take before we run out of water?
Posted by: HarveyD | 13 July 2008 at 08:56 AM
To quote Popular Mechanics via Wikipedia: "Rubbish"
Posted by: DavidJ | 13 July 2008 at 12:16 PM
I hope you're right and this turns into the next great thing. I read those articles a few weeks ago and was interested as well. There are still too many things unknown for us to judge if it's "real" or not. From this link:
"Genepax unveiled a fuel cell stack with a rated output of 120W and a fuel cell system with a rated output of 300W. The 300W system is an active system, which supplies water and air with a pump" Ok, so what powers this pump? Is it being powered by the energy of the fuel cell itself once the reaction is started with an outside catalyst such as left over charge in the lead acid battery? Even so, this starts to sound like perpetual motion to me.
They gives no details to know what is providing the power to sustain this reaction. It may not be fair to ask for that info yet if they really are real and are protecting some trade secret. Who knows.
Here are a few facts about Genepax's new fuel cell we do know:
Costs - (again from the article above) "In future Genepax intends to provide 1kw-class generation systems for use in electric vehicles and for residential applications. The production cost is presently about ¥2,000,000 (US$18,522), it estimated that it can be reduced to ¥500,000 ($5000) or lower if the company succeeds in mass production."
An average sedan, cruising down the highway, takes about 10kW. So we're talking about $50,000 worth of cost WHEN THEY GET MASS PRODUCTION COSTS!!!
Ok, now let's factor in the cost of the H2 infrastructure and the fact that it won't exist for a long time, if ever.
Early on in these types of announcements and demonstrations, you see people saying these same things about electrolysis and big TV news stories with some poor guy in his garage showing how he can produce hydrogen from water and the average Joe watching gets excited and is now waiting for their new water/hydrogen powered car. Oops, did we forget to do the calculations that show it takes ten times as much energy to do the electrolysis as you could ever get out of putting the resulting hydrogen in your car??? Sorry, forgot that bit of detail.
It's not fair for me to compare these two things really because I don't have enough facts about Genepax yet. The facts we do have don't look good so I'm also skeptical until I see the total story on something like this that covers all the little "gotchas".
I'm still waiting for the miracle ultracapacitor from EESTOR. I don't believe it, but I sure HOPE it's true LOL We'll have to wait and see on both EESTOR and GENEPAX. Maybe one really will provide us with a miracle.
Posted by: DaveD | 13 July 2008 at 12:20 PM
Ok, I was trying to be nice, but the truth is that DavidJ nailed that Genepax story....RUBBISH :-)
Posted by: DaveD | 13 July 2008 at 12:33 PM
Getting back to you Dave,
This first wicki site starts a comprehensive discussion on the matter.
My understanding is that most people think of H2 as THE fuel required for a fuel cell by definition.
I guess it is correct to say that any catalyst with the ability to output electons would fit my definition as a fuel cell. IE an exhaust gas oxygen sensor on a motor vehicle. In this instance the output is very small in relation to the input -tanks of gasoline but it still qualifies.
H2 fuelcells are quite good converters of energy when well designed I wont quote any figures as we all have a feel for the current efficiency and the theoretical max must be very high.
While many fuel cells use hydrogen rich energy sources inluding air. It is is common practice to reform the fuel to hydrogen. This is because the fuel cell varient described is a Hydrogen fuel cell. The point I made is that Hydrogen is not the only type of fuel cell nthat is described or understood, just the most common and developed.
Hope this is a clear enough explanation.
Posted by: arnold | 13 July 2008 at 04:25 PM
I checked out the links you mentioned. The Wikipedia is good and I've read all of that before. It still seems to educate folks on the subject of fuel cells pretty well, but it seems to me to reinforce the view that it's H2 or fossil fuel (hydrocarbon) based for the most part and way too expensive on top of the hydrogen infrastructure problem. (Yes, they did mention alcohol as a fuel, but we'd probably try to solve that with corn ethanol in this country anyway LOL) They are hopeful that these problems will be solved, but seem to agree they are way out of line today.
The second link was broken (404) and the third link was a white paper on stationary fuelcells for power generation and was again a hydrogen based fuel cell with CO2 capture for the end to end process of getting the hydrogen.
I may be missing something, but I'm not seeing anything that would lead me to think that fuel cells are very close to a practical solution. There may be some real breakthrough I'm missing, but battery tech is improving at a rate of about 8-10% a year, and it is already close to being able to cost effectively store power for auto's that want to go EV or HEV/PHEV. The electric infrastructure is already in place and can be incrementally improved for rapid charging.
What I keep asking myself is what are the fuel cell folks seeing that I'm missing because it seems to be a terrible diversion of resources to me. Why you ask? Because every time a Genepax type announcement comes out, then some goofy politician decides it's "proof" that we should create a hydrogen economy and starts distracting people from other efforts that seem to be much more practical and cost effective and could yield useful results in 2-3 years.
Just my slanted view, I know, but it really seems that way to me.
Posted by: DaveD | 13 July 2008 at 08:59 PM
I tend to apply your reasoning to the various options, we should believe none of what we hear and only half of what we see. Is about right.
So many claims exaggerate.
I dont mean to make claims, only observations.
Many people feel the same way about battery claims.
There are many traditional prejudice which need to be abandoned when shown to be overtaken or wrong.
Hence the liquid fuel beliefs are hard to shake.
simply they store so much energy.
Note the fuel cells which use formic acid, a pathway step in rerforming (synthesise) DME.
The saying "keep an open mind , just not so open your brains fall out" sums it up for me.
Posted by: arnold | 13 July 2008 at 10:14 PM
The H2 economy is a big distraction
wtf to do? 0 fossil 0 nukes in a perfect world is not unacheivable.
Posted by: arnold | 13 July 2008 at 10:22 PM
You mention Eestor's ultracap.
I think you mean capattery or a battery wih capacitor built in.
(what got me going was hat you call it a an ultracap - not so)
I made a comment about this on another site after following a link from GCC.
My comment was far from flattering. The point is that there are battery capacitor hybrid in the marketplace and reportedly living up to expectations.
(CSIRO aust have a lead acid version(maybe to hedge patents), I think it may have been Maxwell were building and promoting this concept years ago for small? windmills, so the concept is not new.
Neither is the practice of making claims to patented technology that will make the shareholders rich ,
"Make (ice) hybrids HEV and plug in Hybrid PHEV obsolete " That GM will be the only BEV - battery anything left standing (another distraction) In the style of (likely) senators being conned by everything from perpetual motion wate & air fuel cells.
Too right there are a lot of gullible people around.
Heres a beauty,
In Aus we had one MParliament suggesting to the house that by "Jacking up the east coast we could flow rivers inland to irrigate the inland" This was not so widely reported as , I guess, even the opposition were too embarrased to be in the same profession as this ???.
This sort of stupidity and deceit? is about in spade. Take the Enhanced greenhouse deniers for example. As dangerous as they come (in my opinion)
So while in this eestor example the concept may well work with whatever battery VERSION they propose, the claims that this is a" patentable" concept is likely false, willfully misleading to potential shareholders, and as a distraction is unethical and points to a company that (if you nbelieve that Bs****ers are nothing more than that) one need ask the question , " what am I dealing with here?"
Then, you get on the web blog and call it.
Posted by: arnold | 14 July 2008 at 03:00 AM
EESTOR is a company in Autin Texas that claims to have a new ultracapacitor based on barium nitrate, I believe. Anyway, it's supposedly a real ultracap and according to them it has an energy density of 280Wh/kg (that's higher than any lithium battery even in testing), all the power discharge abilities of other ultracapacitors, over a million cycles, cost "only 20% of today's batteries"...and I'm sure they'll tell you it cures cancer, feeds the hungry and does various other miracles.
Their claims were so wildly ahead of anything else that it had most people laughing because they sound like a bunch of wild flakes.
What started making some people stop and wonder if they really had something worth looking at, anything, is when Kleiner Perkins invested some money in them (they are the most advanced VC on the planet for these things and can make mistakes like anyone...but not often) and then Lockheed paid them for exclusive rights to use their tech in all military applications.
On the fuel cell front: the reason I question the fuel cells is that the batteries are so close now. We are working with batteries in one of our test cars now and we're seeing some really good results. We have a supplier now who's providing us with batteries at about USD$2300 for a 26kWh pack that weighs only about 200kg. We are getting between 120 and 200 miles on a charge depending on driving style and conditions. The power is good as well, easily supplemented by other means which I won't go into here. (no, I won't/can't say anything about who the battery maker is or who "we" are...sorry, those nasty NDA's. But you can find various tidbits that make it obvious who the battery maker is if you read enough press and if you're in the business of testing and using the various products out there then you can tell which are real and which are hype).
I have no vested interest in batteries or fuel cells or whatever else might come along. We're just trying to find something practical and affordable that lets us make this car affordable for mass production yet good enough that the average person would want it.
Batteries are so close and we are getting such good results with them that I just want to see the money go into that last little bit to make them truly practical. The limitations don't seem to be insurmountable.
On the fuel cell side, they are generations away and they all seem to involve a hydrogen economy. In the US, you have California making their ZEV rules based around obvious lobbying efforts from fuel cell pundits or big auto companies all with a vested interest in slowing things down. And of course, the rest of the US follows whatever California does on this.
These things are very damaging to what we are trying to accomplish NOW. To what we are trying to get on the road in the next 2-3 years.
These are the reasons I get so frustrated with all the talk of fuel-cells and the rest of the pack. If you show me a remotely practical fuel cell, compressed air, squirrels with nuts in little wheels...I really don't care what it is! Just make it real and make it practical so we can build the cars people want.
Exploring other technologies is the type of basic research that we need now and always. But they need to just do the research and when they get a practical solution THEN they can start doing the press releases and getting lobbyist and politicians on their side to help implement it. Until then, we should not let them slow up the folks who are close with existing tech.
Posted by: DaveD | 14 July 2008 at 06:12 AM
Arnold et al,
First, I would like to apologize: EESTOR is using barium titanate or BST, not barium nitrate. But they are definitely claiming it's an ultracap and there are plenty of comments by the company's CEO where he answers to questions about their "ultracaps" without correcting anyone. Whether it's really an ultracap that gets delivered will only be shown when/if they ever do deliver. But anyway, I should have checked my memory against a source before posting: http://www.ultracapacitors.org/ultracapacitors.org-blog/eestor-eestor-eestor.html
Secondly, I would like to point out that I'm an equal opportunity ranter as well :-) I'll rant at battery based ideas that seem to be folly as well.
For example, I know their heart is in the right place and some of the work they are doing makes sense. But the whole "Project Better Place" seems so wildly impractical that I don't know why somebody isn't saying "the emperor has no clothes".
Let's take a quick glance at the idea of swapping batteries. This would require a huge supply of batteries of every size shape, capacity, voltage, current, etc, etc, etc. Do we really think we're going to get every car maker and battery maker to agree on one size, format, chemistry, voltage level, etc, etc??? Do we really think every car manufacturer is going to design and produce their cars so there is easy access to open and remove a 100-300kg battery? Are we going to somehow retro-fit the equivilent of every gas/petrol station in the world with the mechanical machinery and means to swap these monsters around if we can even agree on a standard for the batteries/cars?
I'll say that their hearts are in the right place, but if you're going to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at a something, at least do it on something that is practical.
Posted by: DaveD | 14 July 2008 at 07:47 AM
Pssst... Did anyone explain to you that everything you are doing is merely a computer game? A not very realistic one? You are a pawn in a galactic entertainment. But don't listen to me. Just keep investing yourself in this "virtual reality." You don't have to truly live - that way.
Posted by: trumanshow | 14 July 2008 at 08:38 AM
Do not doubt the ease of H2 infrastructure. H2 can be produced, stored and compressed on the spot using electricity from renewable sources, for direct consumption. GE has developed a low-cost yet highly efficient electrolyzer suitable for widespread deployment.
Natural gas or biomethane can also be reformed on the spot to produce H2. The heat of this operation can be use for high-temp electrolysis using wind or solar electricity with electrical efficient of up to 140%, so very little energy will be wasted. H2 can be produced locally in the community where it will be dispensed, thus avoiding the cost of long-distance fuel transportation like petroleum now. No more energy security issue due to disruption of the oil pipeline.
H2 infrastructure will be very cost-effective and very easy to do, and is currently being implemented in many places.
Posted by: Roger Pham | 14 July 2008 at 10:53 AM
DaveD ... 26KWh battery for $2300 ... are you missing a zero?
Posted by: HenryP | 14 July 2008 at 02:16 PM
Nope, I'm not missing a zero. It blew me away too the first time we talked with them. To be fair, we're still in testing with it, but it actually seems to meet specs so far.
It does have some operating limitations about temp range which they have not overcome yet, but it still leaves us with plenty of places we can market the car with the first generation and wait for them, or someone else, to solve that problem for the total market availability.
The part that has me most excited is that some people are getting close on viable battery tech. They really are and these aren't wild claims, they are batteries that we are testing with right now.
It's almost too good to be true so I'm waiting to see if they can really meet production volume for us at that price, plus it takes a while to verify the life cycle claims in real world conditions (even the best you can do to simulate them). So we have a few months to go before we can claim it's real technically, and then another 6 months to see if they can meet volume commitments. The other thing that makes me hold my breath is that even if this is real, and they can make volume...will they really sign and honor the final contract at that price or is this a bait and switch? I have no reason to think that right now, but life has a way of kicking you in the rear-end if you believe in something that is too good to be true.
Some for now, I'm very cautious, but very optimistic. :-)
Posted by: DaveD | 14 July 2008 at 06:10 PM