Research Project Highlight

Copper could help unlock the clean-energy potential of hydrogen fuel cells

Hydrogen fuel cells may someday power automobiles and trucks, offering a source of energy that’s free of carbon emissions and pollutants. But their potential has been limited thus far by the high cost and instability of the platinum-nickel catalyst needed to spark the chemical reaction that produces clean electricity.

Using experiments and computer simulations, materials scientists from Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, Los Angeles have taken a major leap toward making that future possible. Their study, published in Matter, sheds new light on a method of stabilizing catalysts by adding copper and provides details on why the method works.

The UCLA team was led by Yu Huang, a professor of materials science and engineering. The Hopkins team was led by Tim Mueller, assistant professor of materials science and engineering.

“The problem is that platinum-nickel catalysts, which are very promising for use in fuel cells, degrade over time as the nickel dissolves,” explains Mueller, whose research focuses on developing and applying computational methods to allow researchers to understand the real-world behavior of materials and to develop new materials for advanced technologies. “Professor Huang’s group discovered that adding copper to the catalysts helped reduce the amount of nickel dissolution, and our group helped them figure out why, which is important for people who want to build on this research.”

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We use advanced computational methods to predict structure-property relationships for nanoscale materials, enabling the identification and design of promising materials for new technologies.

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