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Less platinum means lower prices for autos

January 21, 2010 - 3:29pm


You might wear a platinum wedding band, but tucked away in the guts of a car probably isn’t where Americans prefer this pricey, precious metallic element to be. Luckily, researchers at 3M’s Fuel Cell Component’s Program in St. Paul, Minnesota have us covered.

3M has developed technology that will reduce the amount of platinum necessary in a fuel cell system by using nano-catalyst particles that actually make surface atoms more efficient at producing energy. Platinum is needed in fuel cells because no other metals are even close to being as effective at speeding up chemical reactions to make power. 3M is among a handful of fuel cell system suppliers in the U.S., and these advancements will help the company produce a cost-effective product, enabling more purchasers to buy American-made fuel cell systems that could end up in electric-drive vehicles.

“The cost of platinum has always been a primary factor in the projected costs of automotive fuel cells that are under development,” Mark Debe,  senior staff scientist in 3M’s St. Paul lab, says, adding that 3M’s goal is to reduce that amount to as little as possible, savings that will eventually trickle down to U.S. automakers and car buyers.

The company wants to reduce the amount of platinum used in a fuel cell vehicle to about one third of an ounce, down from current amounts of around two ounces. That’s a projected cost savings of about $1,800, which can vary based on the cost of the platinum used.

The U.S. Department of Energy has collaborated with 3M for more than 10 years in developing these advancements, providing both financial assistance and national laboratory expertise.