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Fuel Cells

Testing New Nanowire Catalysts with Methanol-Based Fuel Cells

Company Name: Oorja Fuel Cells
Program Office: Fuel Cells
Location: Freemont, CA
Email: Md Opu, Project Lead, Product Development Engineering;
Award Amount: $100,000
Project Term: 12 months
Project Status: Active
Participating Lab(s): National Renewable Energy Laboratory


Many types of fuel cell technologies hold potential promise for application in mobility, energy storage and grid management. For direct methanol fuel cells, high catalyst loadings and relatively high over-potential losses have limited the commercial viability of the technology. Platinum-based catalysts used in such fuel cells and the catalyst layer are a significant contributor to the membrane electrode assembly cost, which accounts for 60 percent of the system cost. The large-scale commercial viability of methanol fuel cells is dependent on a significant cost reduction, on the order of approximately 50 percent. If these cost goals can be reached, the current market can be extended from hundreds of units to tens of thousands of units.

Oorja Fuel Cells is currently using a platinum-ruthenium catalyst for methanol oxidation, but does not have access to a supplier able to develop low-platinum group metal catalysts to reach its cost reduction targets. Oorja has recently developed a small lab scale capability in fabrication and testing of direct methanol fuel cell membrane electrode assemblies, but does not have access to synthesis and characterization of advanced electrocatalysts. Through this collaboration, Oorja will have access to materials, equipment, and expertise at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, including recently developed platinum-nickel nanowires, which can be used as catalysts in hydrogen fuel cells. In conjunction with lab staff, Oorja will determine the efficacy of utilizing such nanowires in its assemblies.


Oorja will have access to a significantly lower cost catalyst that will ultimately reduce the cost of its systems and enable the company's products to compete more effectively with other technologies and increasingly displace less desirable and polluting solutions such as diesel generators. The recent discovery of platinum-nickel nanowires as a methanol oxidation catalyst that shows at least one order of magnitude higher mass activity than state of the art platinum-ruthenium catalysts. Such testing and according results may have wider applications across the industry as scientists and businesses look to increase efficiency and decrease cost for multiple types of fuel cell systems.


The availability of less expensive and higher performance fuel cell systems will not only greatly expand opportunities in existing markets such as telecom backup power and materials handling, but also open-up many new opportunities such as powering the cooling units of refrigerated trucks and distributed energy generation.

Fuel cells can substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions by, for instance, replacing the diesel engines used in backup power applications. Fuel cells are also a promising form of energy storage for renewable electricity systems.

Fuel cells can provide a ready and reliable source of emergency backup power for hospitals, police stations and other critical infrastructure.

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