At the moment, platinum is the preferred catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells but it has several drawbacks. Among the problems with platinum is that it is expensive and it deteriorates over time. Scientists at the Brown University found a more durable and cheaper catalyst using cobalt, cobalt-oxide, and graphene. So far this catalyst is the best alternative to platinum.
The graphene sheet that is covered with cobalt-oxide and cobalt developed by chemists at the university can be as good as the platinum when catalyzing the reaction needed for fuel cells. It is also more durable. Among non-platinum catalysts, this new discovery performs best in terms of reduction reaction.
The necessary reaction happens on the cathode side of the fuel cell. The oxygen functions as the electron sink that strips the electrons from the hydrogen fuel. This process creates the necessary electrical pull which keeps the current steadily running through devices using fuel cells. The most viable catalyst for this process is platinum but since it is very expensive and rare, he fuel cell technology cannot really be rolled out for mass consumption.
Scientists have not developed a more economic alternative to platinum. Some have found a way to decrease the amount of platinum needed but a catalyst that does not need any platinum remained elusive. So far, the most promising is this newly developed material made from graphene and cobalt. It is the first catalyst made from a non-precious metal and comes close to what platinum can do,
Initial testing shows that the cobalt-graphene material is a bit slower than the platinum catalyst when looking into the needed reduction reaction of the oxygen but once the process is started, it is actually faster than platinum. It also proves to be more stable than platinum.
Cobalt is a very abundant metal at a fraction of a cost of platinum. Graphene is well-known for its strength, catalytic potential and electrical properties.