Hong Kong researchers boost hydrogen fuel cell performance with iron cathode

By inventing an iron cathode that extends the life of the proton ceramic cell, a team of researchers from the University of Hong Kong have made a major advancement for the hydrogen fuel cell.

Despite the fact that the fuel cell was created many years ago, it has only recently seen notable development. The iron cathode, a new innovation from Hong Kong, can boost its performance.

Through a rather effective and clean process, the fuel cell produces electricity from the chemical energy provided by hydrogen and other gases. The disadvantage is that some parts, like the cathode, are composed of very costly and environmentally harmful elements, like cobalt.

However, a team of scientists from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology has made a ground-breaking discovery by developing an iron cathode that extends the life of a proton ceramic battery.

This particular fuel cell (PCFC) has the benefit of minimal pollution emissions and high efficiency because it is based on proton-conducting ceramic electrolytes. They also function with other gases like ammonia, biogas, and methane in addition to hydrogen.

Because cobalt easily decreases and increases its oxidation number, resulting in superior oxygen reduction reaction activity, which is crucial for cathode performance, cobalt-based perovskites are currently the most widely utilized cathode materials.

Therefore, a substitute for cobalt needs to be discovered. Iron shares several features with cobalt in addition to being next to it on the periodic table and being much cheaper. However, iron-based compounds typically make for poorer catalysts, which lowers performance.

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong developed new, low-cost ceramics based on barium, iron, and zirconium by combining first-principle simulations, molecular orbital analysis, and experimentation. A PCFC stack with higher performance was the end result.

They demonstrated through a series of studies that the D-BFZ has strong electrochemical activity to react with oxygen, resulting in a high peak power density and outstanding operational stability.