"The Head of the School of Chemistry in the Faculty of Science at Monash University is Professor Doug MacFarlane. His current area of research, published in the August 2008 edition of the Journal, ‘Science’, focuses on the design of a novel fuel cell with an air electrode. This fuel cell outlasts the platinum cell and is as effective, more economical, and is more easily sourced.
His work has been conducted in the Australian Centre for Electromaterials Science (ACES), an Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence, for which Professor MacFarlane is the chief investigator. The breakthrough, where expensive platinum in the fuel cell is replaced by the cheaper but just as efficient air-electrode, will have a huge impact on the next generation of hybrid cars.
Monash’s Dr Bjorn Winther-Jensen invented a technique whereby a conductive plastic layer can be deposited on the Goretex membrane from which the air-electrode is constructed. This highly conductive plastic acts as the electrode and the catalyst in the fuel cell. The new design fuel cell has undergone rigorous testing for periods up to 1500 hours. There is no sign of deterioration or wear and tear. The tests also confirmed that O2 conversion rates are comparable with platinum–catalysed electrodes of the same geometry.
“The reliance of traditional fuel cells on platinum was making the concept of using them in everyday passenger cars increasingly improbable because of its high cost and scarcity. Current annual production of platinum would be sufficient for only three million 100kW vehicles; that is, one-fifth of the current annual production globally. The cost of the platinum component of current fuel cells for a small car with a 100kW engine has become substantially greater than the total cost of an entire 100kW gasoline engine.”
One of Professor MacFarlane’s collaborators, the ACES Director Professor Maria Forsyth, enlarges on this. She confirms it is significant that the electrodes are not poisoned by carbon monoxide the way platinum is. Professor MacFarlane believes that the discovery is possibly the most important development in fuel cell technology in the last 20 years."