Professor Experiments With Fuel-Cell Catalyst, Lithium Battery

Professor Experiments With Fuel-Cell Catalyst, Lithium Battery

In the race to develop a cost-effective replacement for the automobile’s internal combustion engine, Sanjeev Mukerjee, Professor of Physical and Materials Chemistry at Northeastern, is convinced that fuel cells and superbatteries are the winning technology combo. Both are under development in Northeastern’s Center for Renewable Energy Technology.

Mukerjee and his NUCRET team are committed to solving what Mukerjee considers the primary stumbling block to a practical fuel-cell system that converts hydrogen to energy: cost. Because fuel cells use platinum as a catalyst, the existing technology applied to electric cars would cost an unsustainable $5,000 per kilowatt.

NUCRET researchers are experimenting with much less expensive catalysts—such as iron and cobalt polymer composites—to reduce the energy price a thousandfold.

But electric vehicles also need an energy storage system. Mukerjee and his team are working on one that is cheaper and more efficient than existing lithium-ion batteries. The lithium air battery, which was invented and patented by NUCRET, takes oxygen from the air for its oxygen reduction reaction. Lithium-ion batteries, conversely, require a metal-oxide electrode that is more expensive and needs more frequent recharging.

Coupled with inexpensive fuel cells, this novel superbattery technology would enable a fully electric car to drive 500 miles—from San Diego to San Francisco—on a single charge.

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