Manufacturing News from the Engineered Designer Perspective

Waterloo researchers seek cheaper fuel cells for electric cars


Researchers at several US and Canadian academic institutions, with key industrial partners, are collaborating in a quest to make a cheaper fuel cell for electric cars. If they succeed, the lead Canadian researcher says, there could be a million electric cars on the roads of North America by the end of this decade. The work is being led by Los Alamos National Laboratory, under the authority of the US Department of Energy. The Canadian partner in the project is the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

The high cost of platinum, which is used as the catalyst in fuel cells, is a barrier to widespread adoption. Researchers at Waterloo university are searching for a viable nanotechnology alternative to platinum. General Motors is an industrial partner in the effort.

A major barrier to the widespread adoption of fuel cells in vehicles is the high cost, according to Professor Zhongwei Chen of the University of Waterloo. The cells typically use platinum as the catalytic agent, and that contributes about 40 per cent of the cost, Chen said. An average fuel cell for a car needs 30 grams of pure platinum, which will produce enough power to run the car for 150,000 kilometres. But the platinum costs about $4,000 at today’s prices.

“Platinum is so expensive, and is obviously a limited resource, we have to find a way to replace it if fuel cell cars are going to succeed,” said Chen.

The Waterloo researchers are working with nanotechnology to create “non-precious” alternatives to platinum at a “fraction” of the cost but with comparable durability. If they are successful, Chen says, it could help “pave the way” for the motor industry to adopt hydrogen fuel cells in a major way. A million new electric cars by the end of the decade could be a realistic outcome.

While fuel cell vehicles have the advantages of producing no greenhouse emissions and reducing dependence on fossil fuels, there is no fuel cell available today that can compete with conventional cars in terms of cost and durability. The US Department of Energy estimates that a platinum-based fuel cell would have to use four times less platinum than is currently used if they are to make a realistic alternative to the internal combustion engine. But Professor Chen and his group aim to eliminate the platinum altogether.

General Motors has been working on developing new fuel cell technology for several years. The company set up a special lab in 2007, with several hundred fuel cell engineers to work on the technology. GM is one of the industrial partners in the current research.

The Waterloo research effort has support through a $4 million grant from the US Department of Energy. Other members of the team, led by Los Alamos National Laboratory, are Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Rochester, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. IRD Fuel Cells and General Motors are industrial partners in the project.


More Great Stories
No-cost energy-reduction plan offered to Ontario businesses
Businesses in Ontario are being offered the opportunity to save energy by participating in a joint v [more]
New wind farm approved near Lake Huron shore
NextEra Energy Canada has been given approval from Ontario’s Environment Ministry for a $300-milli [more]
Infrastructure in focus at Queen’s Park as new legislation tabled
Infrastructure is one of those things people don’t think about much until something goes wrong. An [more]
Canada’s GDP strength was east, west and north, not central
Canada’s economic output grew 2 per cent in 2013, with growth in every province but New Brunswick. [more]
Ford investment in Oakville gets auto industry “on the move again”
In its most recent statement on the Ontario economy, RBC Economics took a pessimistic tone in genera [more]
Ontario’s food producers missing local growth opportunities: study
If Ontario farmers grew locally just 10 per cent more of the fruits and vegetables that are currentl [more]

Other Popular News and Stories

  • Vancouver shipyard awarded $3.3 billion to build Coast Guard ships
  • BMW unveils i3, the electric car of the future
  • CAE announces new flight simulator sales, higher profits
  • BC sees 100,000 LNG jobs, $1 trillion in revenues
  • Clean energy expected to surge as pv costs drop
  • Renewable energy use increased in US in 2012
  • Bombardier takes orders for CSeries at Farnborough
  • Canadian oil production up; producers turning to railways for shipment
  • Quebec aerospace industry in good shape despite setbacks
  • Transportation workers urge quick response to Lac-Megantic report
  • Handheld device detects bacteria on food in real time
  • Natural gas industry outlines challenges, opportunities in Canada
  • FirstEnergy of Calgary to host ninth London Global Energy Conference
  • US resumes exports of LNG
  • Canada's oil sands dispute with EU flares
  • Waterloo researchers seek cheaper fuel cells for electric cars
  • Swiss tech does the impossible, creates white solar panels
  • Relief as Ontario company rescues closing Heinz plant
  • Contractors, steel workers unions support Northern Gateway pipeline
  • Magna producing first all-olefin liftgate assembly for Nissan Rogue