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Fuel cells are already being used as power sources for various applications, such as space and the military. Although they have proven useful, they are also expensive and difficult to mass produce. Gold alloy catalysts, supported by carbon, are now in research as replacements for platinum. Gold catalysts are also finding use in pure hydrogen production from natural gas, biogas, and propane.
Fuel cells work by converting chemical to electrical energy. Most of them put hydrogen and oxygen together, a reversal of electrolysis. This means that fuel cells are not limited by current heat cycles being used, and they can use fuels more efficiently than the currently popular generators. Fuel cells will usually have a series if plates that are composed of two poles and a conductive material. Gold can allow such cells to be corrosion resistant and can reduce the contact resistance that exists between diffusion media and plate.
Gold is a catalyst in oxygen reduction when in alkaline solution. In the past, gold had no role in developing proton-exchange membrane fuel cells because it had no such activity in acid. Platinum was used but it is expensive. Iron has been used, but it is not as stable as the palladium gold alloy anode catalyst that is currently being tested at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Such anodes have been shown to resist the effects of carbon monoxide, which was a hindrance to effectiveness of platinum catalysts. Experiments have shown that the new alloy is more effective than platinum-based ones. Researchers hypothesize that palladium is stabilized by the gold component so that carbon monoxide adsorption is reduced considerably.
Brookhaven National Laboratory has also started to prepare electrocatalysts with reduced platinum loading, but with even greater activity. This time, the mix is platinum, iron, and nickel, with a core-shell of gold-nickel alloy nanoparticles. Recent work on gold as part of a catalytic system has shown stability, as well as electrocatalytic properties versus gold on its own.
Gold has also been used to generate pure hydrogen that can be used for fuel cell systems. Gold can also lower costs. Gold is supported on metal oxides, such as oxides of iron, cobalt, and titanium. As research proceeds on fuel cells , and as gold as currently finding use in them, we can only expect better sources of energy in the future.