A new polymer, shown in powdered form, can be used to make stable fuel-cell membranes that conduct negatively charged ions.
Fuel cells are, in principle, the most efficient way to convert hydrogen fuel into electricity. But they require expensive catalysts such as platinum to split hydrogen into ions and electrical current. Cheaper metals simply can’t withstand the harsh acidic environment of the fuel cell. Now researchers in China have developed a fuel cell that uses a new membrane material to operate in alkaline conditions, eliminating the need for an expensive catalyst. The power output of the new prototype, which uses nickel as a catalyst, is still relatively low, but it provides a first demonstration of a potentially much less expensive fuel cell.