Amazing fuel cell innovation. For real or hypbe?

If this is true, and the costs and mass production are as easy as they hint - this could be huge. Since it comes from Case Western Reserve I lean towards it’s going to revolutionize fuel cells, but then again they’re not involved in bringing this tech to market.

[LEFT]Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland say catalysts made of carbon nanotubes dipped in a polymer solution can outperform traditional platinum catalysts in fuel cells at a fraction of the cost. Read more:

Fuel cells are like batteries, they’re just a delivery technology. They change nothing about the upstream sources - fossil, solar, hydro, nuclear.

I understand that, but generating power via Wind, Solar, Nuclear, & Geothermal, and even Natural Gas are better than digging up more oil and coal.

Platinum, which represents at least a quarter of the cost of fuel cells, currently sells for about $30,000 per pound, while the activated carbon nanotubes cost about $45 per pound, a Case release said Tuesday.

So this drops costs by 25%. Nice, but just one step.

The article says nothing about the actual cost % that platinum makes up in an average fuel cell. If it’s going to drop overall cost by only a few %, I certainly wouldn’t slap it with the revolutionary label.

Also, I’m not sure if a pure drop in cost, alone, ever equals revolutionary unless it is tremendous. Technology gets cheaper over time, as almost a matter of course. Rather, I’d consider things like major improvements in size, weight, capacity, etc. more revolutionary. Being able to put cells in things that couldn’t use them before is revolutionary. Dropping the price of a future Prius by $200, not so much.

There is no indication that a cell using this technology would be any better, beyond cost.

For now, the best course is to be skeptical for the following reasons.

  1. This report was written two days ago - that’s not very long for testing and verification.
  2. This finding was demonstrated via press release - that doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but I like to get my science through journals first.

This could be a good thing - it’s hard to say at this point - but it’s a little early for laypeople to try and reach any conclusion about it. Given that this is just a delivery solution, and still monumentally inefficient compared to the portability and energy delivery capacity for fossil fuels, I’d be more excited about the claims some other folks are making about a bacteria that can make fuel out of air. In that case, you wouldn’t have to substantially change the way cars, gas stations, and everything else works (because your delivery device is the same), but you’re making actual environmental games. Either way it’s probably not going to make any material difference in the way my car works for at least five to ten years, and the utility of this particular advance will ultimately be constrained by the basic inefficiency that ANY battery technology is going to have in comparison to a preloaded energy source you can pull out of the ground.

tl;dr - It’s potentially a nice advance, but way too early to decide if it’s scalable, or even if it works at all the way the research institute claims that it does.


Screw fuel cells. I’m puttin’ my money into compressed air cars!

That lists the price per pound, but not how much platinum is used in a fuel cell (presumably not a pound of it) or how much a fuel cell generally costs to make.

He’s right. Platinum is expensive and the alternative that they’re presenting is theoretically cheaper. That does not speak to how much advantage you gain, however, if you only use a tiny amount of platinum in the manufacture of the device. Logically, they haven’t established the claim - they’ve only implied it.

Now, I doubt that they’d try anything as dumb as that, so I assume there’s a price-significant amount of platinum used in the manufacture of a hydrogen fuel cell, but I AM assuming that.

Thanks, I missed the part on platinum being quarter of the cost of the fuel cell. A quarter cost reduction (treating nanotubes as free) is not what I would consider revolutionary. It’s very promising and will certainly move the technology forward (assuming it works), but revolutionary is hyperbole, there.

You really don’t want that.

Great. We can replace global warming with global suffocating.


So? The decision about what route to take is made on production costs + distribution costs. Even if distribution costs were made competitive by fuels cells, fossil fuels still have far, far lower production costs, so it’s a moot point.

Until fossil fuels start really really running out - which for coal is way the hell off - or their pollution and climate change externalities are priced in some way, fuel cells are irrelevant.

Not true. $200 per barrel oil makes alternate sources cost efficient, and that generally drives investment in researching things like solar cells. People don’t like paying $5-per at the pump.

Not to mention that fossil fuels can’t really be lumped together so dismissively in any real conversation. The dynamics behind oil and coal are vastly different, for instance, and both also different from natural gas.

When oil gets that high I fully expect a huge coal switchover unless the incentives are changed.

Mercedes used to make coal burning cars which were never fun to get stuck behind in traffic.

I’d expect at the least that we’d simply switch to oil shale.

Now if only they can figure out a way to convert energy into hydrogen efficiently.

disclaimer - I did not personally have anything to do with the subject of this thread (let alone have the knowledge to understand half of what’s being talked about), but I may or may not know some people who did.

The amount of platinum is substantial when monetized. A good estimate for efficient “old tech” fuel cells in the foreseeable future is around .2 g/kW, so if you have a 100 kW stack then you’re looking at 20g ~ .7 ounces ~ .04375 pounds * price of platinum per pound (which when I last checked was actually around $27,500) = about $1200.

I think that quantifying into a fixed number is less informative than the percentage number (25%) given by the article. When looked at as a percentage of total fuel cell cost, I don’t think most would call this revolutionary.

Take for example my 42" LCD TV. I bought it around 4 years ago for $1100. Such a TV now would cost around $800. A 25% price decrease. I don’t think we’d run around calling that a revolution in TV manufacturing, particular since it is essentially the same TV: not better, lighter, faster, etc.

I was answering a question a few people had posed, not contesting your assertion of “not revolutionary” so I’m sorry if that’s how it came off. That said, I mostly agree with your sense of things although I’m not quite sure why your 25% is better than a formula which actually tells you how much platinum is being replaced in any given battery using this tech. Think of it this way - 25% of what? Prices of various components are constantly fluctuating and as they become more common those that aren’t dependent upon rare elements may drop in price, raising the percentage of price that platinum would take up even if the actual amount of it never changes.

But that’s neither here nor there - the advancement is quite nice, but shaving $1000+ off the price of a fuel cell is not going to suddenly make or break this thing on its own. I think it’s a shift in the right direction with several more required until it can conceivably go mainstream.