A model of the nanoshell (source: Gunma University Professor Junichi Ozaki)
[Click to enlarge image]

Nisshinbo Holdings Inc announced Sept 22, 2017, that it has started to evaluate the application of a polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PEFC) stack using "carbon alloy catalyst," which the company is developing to replace platinum, to carrier machines such as forklifts.

Compared with other fuel cells, the size of PEFC can be more easily reduced, and it can be more easily operated/stopped. Therefore, PEFCs are now increasingly being employed for fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs). On the other hand, because they use platinum, which is expensive and rare, the development of a catalyst that can replace platinum has been a major challenge in expanding the use of PEFCs.

The carbon alloy catalyst is an electrode catalyst that does not use platinum (scarce resource) at all, uses carbon (which can be stably supplied by industrial production) as a main raw material and is for PEFCs. Canada-based Ballard Power Systems plans to release a portable PEFC stack using the catalyst in December 2017. By using the catalyst for the air electrode of the PEFC stack, the company reduced the used amount of platinum by about 80%.

This time, following the commercialization of the portable PEFC stack, Nisshinbo Holdings started to develop the catalyst for carrier machines in collaboration with Ballard. There is a possibility that, by expanding the application of the catalyst to high-output PEFC stacks designed for industrial and construction machines, which require a large amount of energy, the costs of hydrogen-powered facilities and carrier machines will be lowered.

Currently, hydrogen production is drawing attention as an energy storage method that absorbs the output fluctuation of solar and wind power generation facilities. And there are high hopes for hydrogen systems that are combined with PEFCs and convert produced "renewable energy-derived hydrogen" into electricity for use. If hydrogen-powered industrial facilities become more common, the application range of hydrogen systems will be expanded.

Nisshinbo paid attention to "nanoshell-containing carbon," which was found by Junichi Ozaki, professor of Gunma University, and they have been engaged in a joint research. "Nanoshell" consists of stacked carbon layers and has a hollow spherical shell structure. Its diameter is 20-50nm. It is formed by mixing resin and metal and burning it.