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Two recent studies have identified new materials used for fuel cells, which may help bring down the cost of hydrogen cars.
The studies relate to the two chemical reactions completed within a fuel cell, both of which require a catalyst (a material that triggers the reaction).
“Fuel cells operate via the coupling of two complementary half-reactions: (1) oxidation of a fuel, such as H2, and (2) reduction of O2 to water,” explained James B. Gerken and Shannon S. Stahl.
Based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Gerken and Stahl focused on the second half of this process. The researchers note that two-electron redox cycles, the standard catalyst, require materials that are more expensive and can create toxins during oxygen reduction. By using an organic nitroxyl called TEMPO (2,2,6,6-tetramethylpiperidinyl-N-oxyl) with a nitrogen oxide catalyst instead, Gerken and Stahl were able to more efficiently complete this process.
For the first half of the fuel cell reaction, a team of Stanford researchers found that earth abundant metal oxides were a less expensive yet still stable way to break apart water molecules, in comparison to non-precious metals commonly used.
High vehicle costs have been named as one of the primary hindrances blocking FCV sales. The Toyota Mirai will start its U.S. sales at $57,500 (not including dealer fees or potential incentives). The Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell is similarly priced, though its lease-only cost of $499 per month does include free fuel.
Still, both are more expensive than many conventional luxury sedans, including the Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz E-class or BMW 5-series.
As new research develops less expensive ways to build and run fuel cells, it will become easier for hydrogen cars to compete with other zero emission cars. A $10,000 reduction in price would place the Mirai at the same price point as two other well-appointed battery electric vehicles: the BMW i3 and the Mercedes-Benz B-class Electric Drive.