While hydrogen continues to be the most talked about power source for fuel cells, a group of scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory working with researchers from the University of Delaware and Yeshiva University has come up with a new strain of catalyst that could make ethanol a viable alternative. Constructed of platinum and rhodium atoms on carbon-supported tin dioxide nanoparticles, this highly efficient transformer resolves two main issues that have previously limited the appeal of a bio-alcohol alternative. It allows for a more rapid breakdown of the ethanol into components hydrogen ions and electrons -- and it's capable of doing so at room temperatures. Beyond being extremely efficient, this new "ternary" catalyst also creates carbon dioxide as the main by product of the ethanol oxidation process and not acetalhyde and/or acetic acid like other ethanol catalysts do.

According to Brookhaven chemist Radoslav Adzic, the new ternary catalyst could well open the door for direct ethanol-fuel cells. "Ethanol is one of the most ideal reactants for fuel cells. It's easy to produce, renewable, nontoxic, relatively easy to transport, and it has a high energy density. In addition, with some alterations, we could reuse the infrastructure that's currently in place to store and distribute gasoline."

According to Adzic, the promising initial results have the team believing that their ternary catalyst might also be used in other forms of alternative energy applications. "The ability to split the carbon-carbon bond and generate CO2 at room temperature is a completely new feature of catalysis. There are no other catalysts that can achieve this at practical potentials."

The full story on the development of the ternary catalyst can be found in the January 25th issue of "Nature Materials" magazine.  

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