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HKUST builds the most durable hydrogen fuel cell in the world


The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has invented a novel hydrogen fuel cell that is not only the world’s most durable1 to date, but also more cost-effective, paving the way for a wider application of green energy in the pursuit of a carbon-free world.

The hydrogen fuel cell is a viable sustainable energy solution since it creates electricity without emitting carbon dioxide, particulate matter, or other air pollutants that can cause smog and other health issues.

Despite its environmental benefits and years of development, the hydrogen fuel cell has not yet achieved widespread commercialization. This is due to the fact that its power generation relies substantially on an electrocatalyst, which is mostly composed of the costly and rare metal platinum.

Scientists have attempted to produce replacements to platinum by substituting more common and affordable materials, such as iron-nitrogen-carbon, for platinum. However, these compounds have proven ineffective for power generation or to be of low endurance.

Now, a research team lead by Professor SHAO Minhua of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at HKUST has discovered a novel formula that not only reduces the amount of platinum used by 80 percent, but also sets a record for the durability of the cell.

Despite containing a small amount of platinum, the team’s new hybrid catalyst maintained platinum catalytic activity at 97 percent after 100,000 cycles2 of accelerated stress test, in contrast to the current catalyst, which typically experiences a performance drop of over 50 percent after 30,000 cycles. In another test, the new fuel cell showed no performance degradation after 200 hours of operation3.

The fact that the novel catalyst includes three different active sites for the reaction, as opposed to just one in present catalysts, contributed to its exceptional performance. Using a formula combining atomically scattered platinum, single iron atoms, and platinum-iron nanoparticles, the new mixture accelerates reaction rate and reaches 3.7 times the catalytic activity of platinum alone. Theoretically, the greater the catalytic activity, the more energy it produces.

Prof. Shao, also the Director of HKUST Energy Institute, said, “Hydrogen fuel cell is an energy conversion device essential for our aspiration of achieving a carbon neutral world, there is a need to expand its use amidst our fight against climate change.  We are delighted to see our research findings bringing this goal a step closer.  Thanks to the Government’s Green Tech Fund, we will seek to further refine the catalyst and make it compatible with fuel cell vehicles and other electrochemical devices.” 

Nedim Husomanovic

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