Perspectives

Toward sustainable fuel cells

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Science  16 Dec 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6318, pp. 1378-1379
DOI: 10.1126/science.aal3303

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Summary

A quarter of humanity's current energy consumption is used for transportation (1). Low-temperature hydrogen fuel cells offer much promise for replacing this colossal use of fossil fuels with renewables; these fuel cells produce negligible emissions and have a mileage and filling time equal to a regular gasoline car. However, current fuel cells require 0.25 g of platinum (Pt) per kilowatt of power (2) as catalysts to drive the electrode reactions. If the entire global annual production of Pt were devoted to fuel cell vehicles, fewer than 10 million vehicles could be produced each year, a mere 10% of the annual automotive vehicle production. Lowering the Pt loading in a fuel cell to a sustainable level requires the reactivity of Pt to be tuned so that it accelerates oxygen reduction more effectively (3). Two reports in this issue address this challenge (4, 5).