Finding the best possible way to develop an affordable emissions-free car is the aim of the researchers.
A University of Delaware research team has been considering the important question of what it will take to create an affordable emissions-free car.
Hydrogen fuel cells may be the best option for powering zero-emission vehicles: Toyota has just introduced a hydrogen-powered car in Japan and will make them available in the United States in 2015.
But these fuel cells require an electrocatalyst, a platinum surface, to increase the reaction rate, and the cost of the precious metal makes it hard for hydrogen fuel cells to compete economically with the internal combustion engine.
Yushan Yan, distinguished Professor of Engineering and his group has been working on a new type of fuel cells, using alkaline polymers that could employ a number of non-precious metal catalysts such as nickel, which would be a thousand times cheaper than platinum.
But using alkaline polymers leads to a high pH, and researchers have discovered that the reaction goes about 100 times more slowly in this environment that it does in an acid.
In order to create less expensive electrocatalysts that work well in an alkaline environment, researchers have to know exactly how the reaction unfolds, and what its most essential mechanisms are.
The study is published in the multidisciplinary journal Nature Communications.