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Silver wire vs. Platinum wire for Hydrogen Fuel Cells

I understand that most proof-of-concept hydrogen fuel cells on instructables use platinum wire. Can I use silver-coated wire in place of it, or rather, just any wire? Platinum wires aren't exactly readily available here in the Philippines, and I just want a good proof-of-concept hydrogen fuel cell that's cheap to produce.

The silver-coated wire I'm referring to appears to be some sort of jewelry wire. I'm also wondering as to why most people would use platinum wire (is there a special property platinum possesses that other metals don't?).

If I can't use platinum wire, then what can I use? Something preferably cheap and over-the-counter.

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I notice we get some traffic from this question and thought I would update some links:

The original link in the comment by Lopez referenced this product: http://fuelcellstore.com/science-fair-fuel-cell-ki...

We now also have just the fuel cell (http://fuelcellstore.com/horizon-mini-pem-fuel-cel... Reversible FC from the kit (http://fuelcellstore.com/horizon-mini-reversible-f... or Electrolyzer (http://fuelcellstore.com/horizon-mini-pem-electrol... which make it quite a bit less expensive if you don't need the rest of the stuff.

The original post was looking for Platinum Electrode Materials. We don't currently have Pt wire, but do have Pt Electrodes specifically for fuel cells: http://fuelcellstore.com/fuel-cell-components/gas-... as well as raw Platinum Catalyst (http://fuelcellstore.com/fuel-cell-components/cata...

I know it's a lot of links to products, but I hope this helps anyone hoping to build or experiment with fuel cells! You can always send us an email or call if there's anything we can do to help on your project. We like to support the Makers and Inventors as much as we can.

heyhowie2 years ago

If you're looking for pure platinum wire or platinum alloy wire, try http://buyplatinumwire.com by Surepure Chemetals. They ship internationally (including to the Philippines) and have a good selection. You can buy a little for your proof of concept and then larger quantities if your experiment works. :)

louiscsr3 years ago
It seems that now there is an alternative to using platinum as the catalyst material for converting hydrogen into electricity in a PEM Fuel Cell.

This article describes a new method of using iron (Fe) instead of platinum. 

rjbatc4 years ago
The platinum is there, because it is a catalyst.

If you don´t want to use platinum, probably you could use palladium. But that is even more rare than platinum, I think.
How about nickel? It's in the same group as palladium and platinum. I mean the 10th column of the periodic table.
Probably wouldn´t work.

More like these:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platinum_group

If you can find a wrecked car in the Phillipines, try salvaging its catalytic converter.
It should be coated with some of these - you can use it as an electrode.
I think for purposes of demonstration, the carbon electrodes, found inside a carbon zinc battery, would work, with certain limitations. NurdRage, has done a good video on taking apart carbon zinc batteries, for the goodies they contain, here:
https://www.instructables.com/id/Get-Zinc-Carbon-Electrodes-and-Manganese-dioxide-/

For example, I think everything in this instructable,
https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Make-A-Simple-Hydrogen-Fuel-Cell/
would probably work just as well with carbon electrodes.

I am certain carbon electrodes will make hydrogen and oxygen when supplied by an external source of electric current.

The tricky part is when you try to get the reverse reaction to happen.  That is, get this cell to actually produce small amounts of current, just from the tiny bubbles of H2 and O2 still clinging to the electrodes.

For some reason the forward reaction, making H2 and O2 from electricity, seems to work better.  I am guessing most of the reason for this has to do with the concentration of the reactants.  The concentration of the gas reactants, like H2, is always low at the electrodes, the site where the reaction is taking place.  I mean just as soon as the H2 is formed, it is trying to rapidly diffuse away from the electrode. 

To get the reaction to happen in reverse, you have to get hydrogen to diffuse into the electrode, or at least into the surface of it where the electrons are, and that can be tricky. Also you have to accomplish the same thing with the oxygen at the other electrode.

Regarding the reasons why platinum makes a good electrode, I can think of two reasons. 

The first is that platinum is not oxidized easily, like other metals, which is another way of saying it will not corrode. 

The second reason is that platinum has catalytic properties.  It can participate in a reaction, but without changed by that reaction, if that makes sense.  A catalyst offers a different path for a reaction to take place, and as a result makes a reaction happen faster, or at lower temperatures, than it would without a catalyst.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalysis
If that sounds vague, that's because I do not totally understand how catalysts work.

Anyway, I am hoping those carbon electrodes, from battery cells,  will do what you need them to do.  The carbon electrodes are cheap, easy to get, and will not corrode easily, although I am not sure if they are going to offer any significant catalytic activity.

There also exist commercial versions of fuel cells, based on proton exchange membranes (PEM),
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proton_exchange_membrane_fuel_cell
which is a somewhat exotic material, but it is out there. Although it is kind of expensive, even just for the "toy" versions of it, like this:
http://www.fuelcellstore.com/en/pc/viewPrd.asp?idproduct=911&idcategory=43
Do you understand the basics behind a fuel cell?

All fuel cells consist of an anode (negative side), a cathode (positive side) and an electrolyte that allows charges to move between the two sides of the fuel cell. Platinum is used as the catalyst on the anode side to help start the chemical reaction that produces free electrons out though the anode and cathode and water vapor as the byproduct. Without platinum the fuel cell won't work.

As you can see Fuel Cells are not cheap to produce due to there need for platinum. There are other fuel cell types in development that are trying to use other catalyst but they are not ready for production and use fuel sources other then pure hydrogen.