Singapore, August 24, 2012 - Using a mixture of gold, copper and platinum nanoparticles, IBN researchers have developed a more powerful and longer lasting fuel cell material. This breakthrough was published recently in leading journal, Energy and Environmental Science.
Fuel cells are a promising technology for use as a source of electricity to power electronic devices, vehicles, military aircraft and equipment. A fuel cell converts the chemical energy from hydrogen (fuel) into electricity through a chemical reaction with oxygen. A fuel cell can produce electricity continuously as long as there is a fuel supply.
Current commercially available fuel cells use platinum nanoparticles as the catalyst to speed up the chemical reaction because platinum is the only metal that can resist the highly acidic conditions inside such a cell. However, the widespread use of fuel cells has been impeded by the high cost of platinum and its low stability.
To overcome this limitation, a team of researchers led by IBN Executive Director Professor Jackie Y. Ying has discovered that by replacing the central part of the catalyst with gold and copper alloy and leaving just the outer layer in platinum, the new hybrid material can provide 5 times higher activity and much greater stability than the commercial platinum catalyst. With further optimization, it would be possible to further increase the material's catalytic properties.
IBN's new nanocomposite material can produce at least 0.571 amperes of electric current per milligram of platinum, compared to 0.109 amperes per milligram of platinum for commercial platinum catalysts. This is also the first time that a catalyst has been shown to enhance both the stability and activity for the fuel cell reaction with a significantly reduced platinum content.
To make this catalyst more active than the commercial platinum catalyst, the researchers have designed the core of the nanocrsytalline material to be a gold-copper alloy, which has slightly smaller lattice spacing than the platinum coating on the nanocrystal's surface. This creates a compressive strain on the surface platinum atoms, making the platinum more active in the rate-limiting step of oxygen reduction reaction for the fuel cell. Replacing the core of the nanoparticle with the less expensive gold-copper alloy cuts down the usage of platinum, a highly expensive noble metal.
Professor Ying said, "A key research focus at IBN is to develop green energy technologies that can lead to greater efficiency and environmental sustainability. More active and less costly than conventional platinum catalysts, our new nanocomposite system has enabled us to significantly advance fuel cell development and make the technology more practical for industrial applications."
1. J. Yang, X. Chen, X. Yang and J. Y. Ying, "Stabilization and Compressive Strain Effect of AuCu Core on Pt Shell for Oxygen Reduction Reaction," Energy and Environmental Science, (2012) DOI:10.1039/C2EE22172A.
About the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology
The Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) was established in 2003 and is spearheaded by its Executive Director, Professor Jackie Yi-Ru Ying.
Professor Ying was a Professor of Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1992 - 2005). She was recognized as one of "One Hundred Engineers of the Modern Era" by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers in 2008 for her groundbreaking work on nanostructured systems, nanoporous materials and host matrices for quantum dots and wires.
Under her direction, IBN conducts research at the cutting-edge of bioengineering and nanotechnology. Its programs are geared towards linking multiple disciplines across engineering, science and medicine to produce research breakthroughs that will improve healthcare and our quality of life.
IBN's research activities are focused in the following areas:
- Drug and Gene Delivery, where the controlled release of therapeutics involve the use of functionalized polymers, hydrogels and biologics for targeting diseased cells and organs, and for responding to specific biological stimuli.
- Cell and Tissue Engineering, where biomimicking materials, stem cell technology, microfluidic systems and bioimaging tools are combined to develop novel approaches to regenerative medicine and artificial organs.
- Biodevices and Diagnostics, which involve nanotechnology and microfabricated platforms for high-throughput biomarker and drug screening, automated biologics synthesis, and rapid disease diagnosis.
- Pharmaceuticals Synthesis and Green Chemistry, which encompasses the efficient catalytic synthesis of chiral pharmaceuticals, and new nanocomposite materials for sustainable technology and alternative energy generation.
IBN's innovative research is aimed at creating new knowledge and intellectual properties in the emerging fields of bioengineering and nanotechnology to attract top-notch researchers and business partners to Singapore. Since 2003, IBN researchers have published over 786 papers in leading journals.
IBN also plays an active role in technology transfer and spinning off companies, linking the research institute and industrial partners to other global institutions. The Institute has a portfolio of over 659 patents/patent applications on its inventions, and welcomes industrial and clinical partners to collaborate on and co-develop its technologies. IBN has successfully commercialized 33 patents/patent applications.
IBN's current staff and students strength stands at over 150 scientists, engineers and medical doctors. With its multinational and multidisciplinary research staff, the Institute is geared towards generating new biomaterials, devices, systems and processes to boost Singapore's economy in the medical technology, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, consumer products and clean technology sectors.
IBN is also committed to nurturing young talents. Besides the training of PhD students, IBN has a Youth Research Program (YRP) for students and teachers from secondary schools, junior colleges, polytechnics, and universities. Since its inception in October 2003, YRP has reached out to more than 58,800 students and teachers from 287 local and overseas schools and institutions. Over 1,600 students and teachers have completed research attachments at IBN for a minimum period of four weeks.