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Saving Platinum

A new fabrication technique that produces hollow platinum nanocages with ultra-thin walls could dramatically reduce the amount of the costly metal needed to provide catalytic activity in such applications as fuel cell electrodes.

photo - lab setup, microscopic image(Top image) Palladium nanocrystal templates are synthesized and their surfaces coated with platinum in this laboratory setup. Photo: Rob Felt. (Bottom image) A transmission electron microscope image shows a sample of platinum cubic nanocages. Image: Xia Laboratory.

The technique uses a solution-based method for producing atomic-scale layers of platinum to create hollow, porous structures that can generate catalytic activity both inside and outside the nanocages. The layers are grown on palladium nanocrystal templates, then the palladium is etched away to leave behind structures approximately 20 nanometers in diameter, with between three and six atom-thin layers of platinum.

Use of these nanocage structures in fuel cell electrodes could increase the utilization eÔciency of the platinum by a factor of as much as seven, potentially changing the economic viability of the fuel cells.

“We can get the catalytic activity we need by using only a small fraction of the platinum that had been required before,” said Younan Xia, a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. Xia also holds joint faculty appointments in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Tech. “We have made hollow nanocages of platinum with walls as thin as a few atomic layers because we don’t want to waste any material in the bulk that does not contribute to the catalytic activity.”

The research — which also involved researchers at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Arizona State University, and Xiamen University in China — was reported in the journal Science. —JOHN TOON

ipad cover issue 3 2015

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