A cheap substitute for platinum?

Scanning electron microscopy image of tungsten sulphide nanotube bundles.
Tungsten sulphide nanotube bundles. Photo credit: Alla Zak, Weizmann Institute of Science
Scanning electron microscopy image of tungsten sulphide nanotube bundles.

Tungsten sulphide nanotube bundles. Photo credit: Alla Zak, Weizmann Institute of Science

As in many areas of energy storage, hydrogen fuel cell research teams are expending a lot of time and brainpower on ways to replace expensive and rare elements with more ubiquitous catalysts. Crack that and the cost of energy storage should come tumbling down.

Now a group at Rutger University in New Jersey, USA, has published results that indicate tungsten sulphide may well be able to replace super-expensive platinum in fuel cells. But this is no ordinary tungsten sulphide.

In order to overcome the problem that the compound has relatively few active sites, the team thought laterally and produced a form of the substance with a massively increased surface area-to-mass ratio. The resulting structures resemble minute sea-urchins, formed by lifting a nanoscale sheet from a lump of tungsten sulphide.

Testing has so far indicated that this novel solution could give more costly catalysts a run for their money.

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