In Germany, researchers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum have succeeded in equipping a catalyst with an extremely thin protective film of molecular building blocks, which shields it from oxygen and thus makes its life practically infinite. The catalyst still works efficiently.
Oxygen threatens sustainable catalysts that convert hydrogen into fuel cells but researchers have developed a remedy and show that the hydrogenases are safe from oxygen even in a thinner polymer film. “Surprisingly, these thin films are even more robust than the thicker ones,” says Nicolas Plumeré. 50 percent of the catalyst now contributes to catalysis – with thicker protective films, it was only 0.3 percent.
The team was equally surprised that the protective film not only prevents harmful oxygen molecules, but is even able to reactivate a catalyst that is no longer functional by supplying electrons from an adjacent active catalyst. “In other words, catalysts in this protective film protect not only themselves, but also each other,” summarizes Plumeré. This property also allows catalysts in only three microns thin protective layers an infinite life.
“This extreme longevity brings us one step closer to the use of such oxygen-sensitive biocatalysts in fuel cells,” said the research team.