Hong Kong team in hydrogen breakthrough

A new hydrogen fuel cell developed by scientists at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) claims to be the most durable to date.

As such, it could pave the way for a wider application of green energy in the pursuit of a carbon-neutral world.

Hydrogen fuel cells are a promising clean energy option as they efficiently generate power by converting hydrogen and oxygen into electricity, with zero emission of carbon dioxide, particulate matter, and other air pollutants that may cause smog and other health problems. 

However, so far these fuel cells have yet to be widely commercialised, because their power generation depends heavily on an electrocatalyst — largely comprised of the very expensive and rare metal platinum.

Researchers have strived to develop alternatives by replacing platinum with more common and inexpensive materials like iron-nitrogen-carbon. However, those materials have either proven inefficient in power generation or have suffered from poor durability.

Despite a low portion of platinum, the new hybrid catalyst developed by the research team managed to maintain the platinum catalytic activity at 97% after 100,000 cycles  of accelerated stress test, compared to the current catalyst which normally sees a drop of over 50% in performance after just 30,000 cycles.

In another test, the new fuel cell did not show any performance decay after operating for 200 hours.

Professor Shao, 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.”

The study was financially supported by the National Key R&D Program of China, Shenzhen Science and Technology Innovation Committee, and the Research Grant Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The research findings were recently published in the journal Nature Catalysis.