Innovation Spotlight: A stable and active low-cost catalyst for the replacement of platinum

April 25, 2014 12:04 PM EST By: Sarah Wenning

McGill University, TechConnect 2013 National & Global Innovation Awardee

TechConnect recently had a chance to speak with Mark Weber, Commercialization Officer, at McGill University.  Weber represented two of McGill’s technologies at the 2013 TechConnect World, held in Washington, DC.

“We really enjoyed the 1-1 corporate meetings.  It was like ‘speed dating’ and it was a nice way to validate we are on track with the technology,” said Weber.

One of McGill’s technologies provides a cost-effective means to replace the platinum catalyst in a polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cell with carbon-based nanoflakes having iron dispersed at the atomic scale. The new catalyst particles combine stability with activity, and gives the desired purity for the application while simplifying the process flow.

“The technology provides a breakthrough for cost and performance of polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells,” explains Weber. “Fuel cells to date have shown promising performance, but their market penetration has been limited due to a variety of factors, including cost. By replacing the platinum catalyst with a carbon-based graphene nanoflake holding an iron-based catalyst structure, the cost of the fuel cell is reduced significantly with no loss in stability or performance.”

The nanoflakes are of high purity and are produced by a simple, cost-effective, and scalable process method. The technology has applicability in the portable, transportation and energy generation market segments. These markets are anticipated to grow in value to the year 2017 at an annual rate of greater than 17%. There is also a world-wide demand for fuel cell technology, with the United States having the largest market share while Europe and Asia grow at a higher rate. The business model for the technology is to license the invention to a company that can develop it further and scale up to commercial production.

McGill recently applied for, and was awarded, a grant from the Canadian government to accelerate the development of this promising technology.  “Our TechConnect Innovation Award certainly helped us during the application process,” said Weber. “It validated that our research was important and should be continued.”

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