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A "Golden" Discovery

A "Golden" DiscoveryNew research by Tufts scientists – which finds that fuel cells can be made with signifcantly less precious metals – ma help slash the cost of the alternative energy source. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [07.06.03] While hydrogen fuel cells have been hailed as an important alternative energy source for the future, the soaring costs to produce the new technology have kept the idea from taking hold. But cutting-edge research from Tufts scientists may help significantly reduce the expense of fuel cell production, giving the "clean" energy source new life.

"Tufts University researchers say they've found a golden way to make some fuel-cell technologies better and cheaper - by using less gold and precious metals," reported The Boston Herald.

According to Maria Flytzani-Stephanopoulos, the lead researcher of the project, costly precious metals like gold and platinum are frequently used in fuel cell technology to help purify the hydrogen used to produce the cell's energy.

"A lot of the cost of fuel cell technology goes toward buying the platinum to prepare the catalyst," Stephanopoulos, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Tufts, told Reuters.

As fuel cell technology has evolved, the costs have continued to rise. Earlier this year, platinum prices hit 23-year highs following an announcement by President George W. Bush that he would like to invest $2 billion in new fuel cell research.

"But researchers at Tufts have found that only a tiny amount of gold or platinum in non-metallic form is needed to create an active catalyst to purify the hydrogen before it is used in fuel cells," reported Reuters. "Typically, platinum or gold accounts for up to 10 percent of the weights of the catalyst. But Flytzani-Stephanopoulos and her colleagues Howard Saltsburg and Qi Fu found that after stripping the precious metal with cyanide solution, the catalyst was just as active with a slight amount of the precious metal remaining."

The findings - which were published on Science Express, the online website for the journal Science - may give the alternative fuel technology a new boost.

"This can pave the way for cost-effective clean energy production from fuel cells in the near future," Flytzani-Stephanopoulos told the Herald. "It will make fuel cells more economical."

The researchers were funded by a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation, and have filed a provisional patent for their research. Their cutting-edge work in catalytic fuel processing to generate hydrogen for fuel cell applications is one of the major undertakings at Tufts' Science and Technology Center.

 

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