Global energy consumption is accelerating at an alarming rate. There are three main causes: rapid economic expansion, population growth, and increased reliance on energy-based appliances across the world.
Our rising energy demand and the environmental impact of traditional fuels pose serious challenges to human health, energy security, and environmental protection. It has been estimated that the world will need to double its energy supply by 2050 and it is critical that we develop new types of energy to meet this challenge.
Fuel cells usually use expensive platinum electrodes, but a non-metal alternative could be an affordable solution for energy security. Fuel cells generate electricity by oxidizing fuel into water, providing clean and sustainable power.
Hydrogen can be used as the fuel. First, hydrogen is split into its constituent electrons and protons. Then the flow of electrons generates electrical power, before the electrons and protons join with reduced oxygen, forming water as the only by-product.
This technology has high energy conversion efficiency, creates virtually no pollution, and has the potential for large-scale use. However, the vital reaction which generates reduced oxygen in fuel cells requires a catalyst – traditionally a platinum electrode. Unfortunately, the high cost and limited resources have made this precious metal catalyst the primary barrier to mass-market fuel cells.