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The University of Southampton

Research project: Pletcher: Electrocatalysis and Fuel Cells

Currently Active: 

Fuel cells are expected to play a key role in providing ‘green’ energy’ and an emission free transport system.

There remains, however, a great need to improve the electrocatalysts, particularly for oxygen reduction. A joint programme with Professor Hayden, has been seeking to understand the roles of catalyst composition, catalyst centre size and catalyst substrate using combinatorial approaches where the surfaces are prepared by physical vapour deposition. The approach is very promising because it leads to a large number of data points and hence defines the trends with confidence. It has been shown that centres with diameters below 5nm have properties different from bulk metals. For example, the Pt/PtOH and Au/AuOH couples become very irreversible and Au on TiO1.98 becomes an usually active catalyst for CO oxidation.

In common with most other preparative techniques, the above approach leads to surfaces with a distribution of centre sizes. Understanding the catalysis would be significantly assisted if it were possible to deposit small centres of uniform dimensions. The electrodeposition of such surfaces is a possible approach and this is now being developed using gold and platinum as the catalyst materials.

Another critical component of a PME fuel cell stack is the bipolar plate that provides electrical contact between neighbouring cells while separating the O2and H2gases. These plates must be low weight and low cost while being stable in the aggressive conditions met within the fuel cell. Metal plates are attractive but must be coated to give them the essential corrosion resistance over the lifetime of a fuel cell. Hence, coatings for steel plates are being investigated.


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