Hong Kong university makes breakthrough on cost-effective hydrogen fuel cells

In order to assist the city to overcome significant challenges in the transition to clean energy in order to combat climate change, researchers in Hong Kong claim to have made a significant advance in the development of more potent hydrogen fuel cells at a cheaper cost.

In a study they published in July’s issue of Nature Catalysis, Shao Minhua and his team at the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology (HKUST) developed a novel formula that reduces the amount of platinum in the cell’s electrocatalyst by 80%.

In contrast to conventional catalysts, which normally lose 50% of their activity after 30,000 cycles, the novel hybrid catalyst was able to sustain its activity at 97.5% after 100,000 cycles of accelerated stress testing. After running for 200 hours, a different test of the new fuel cell did not reveal any performance degradation.

According to the findings, fuel cells are the most resilient technology available right now, with the potential to reduce raw material prices by as much as 30%, according to Shao, chair professor of the department of chemical and biological engineering.

In an interview with the Post, Shao stated that the discovery “may assist increase the longevity and overall cost-effectiveness of hydrogen fuel cells.” “This can considerably help hydrogen become commercially viable.”

To combat pollution and global warming, hydrogen is seen as a zero-emission, next-generation fuel for producing power. By switching to electric vehicles before 2050, Hong Kong hopes to eliminate all vehicle emissions as well as all carbon emissions from the transportation industry.

According to the authorities, the city will stop registering new fuel-powered and hybrid private vehicles by 2035 or earlier. In the following three years, it will also work with bus companies and other stakeholders to test heavy trucks and buses using hydrogen fuel cells.

The novel formula developed by the HKUST team, which includes atomically scattered platinum, single iron atoms, and platinum-iron nanoparticles, may also result in hydrogen fuel cells that deliver more power because of their improved catalytic activity. According to test results, the composition is capable of accelerating reactions and achieving catalytic activity that is 3.7 times greater than that of pure platinum.

The study’s funding comes from Hong Kong’s HK$400 million Green Tech Fund, which supports initiatives in research and development that further the city’s environmental protection and decarbonization goals. Shao stated that the venture capital firms ZhenFund in Beijing and China Merchants Group had expressed interest in sponsoring the study team.

Shao stated that the team’s novel recipe for hydrogen fuel cells does not require any brand-new machinery for production. According to Hong Kong’s chief secretary, Eric Chan Kwok-ki, the government is eagerly awaiting the new discovery’s fine-tuning for mass manufacturing by his co-researchers.

Ram Chandrasekaran, head of road transport at research consultancy Wood Mackenzie, said: “If the hydrogen used to power the car is ‘green hydrogen,’ then the vehicle is genuinely zero emissions.”

Ankit Sachan, a hydrogen analyst for Asia at S&P Global Commodity Insights, believes that subsidies and government backing are essential to promoting fuel-cell electric cars (FCEVs), which are competing against less expensive but dirtier vehicles powered by internal combustion engines.

The added expenditures for repair and maintenance brought on by low dependability are a significant barrier, Sachan noted, even though their operating costs may be lower than those of internal combustion engines. For FCEVs to be widely commercialized, the industry would need to address the durability difficulties, he continued.

Shao acknowledged that there are still dangers and difficulties with producing hydrogen fuel on a large scale and in more places. He said that there is insufficient infrastructure for manufacturing, storage, and transportation, whereas hydrogen refueling stations are the crucial component for FCEVs.

He declared that hydrogen fuel cells were a crucial energy-conversion tool for realizing the goal of a carbon-neutral future. We must increase its usage in the battle against climate change. We are excited to observe how our study is advancing this objective.