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ENVIRONMENT REPORT – July 25, 2003: Fuel Cell Cost-Cutting - 2003-07-25

This is the VOA Special English Environment Report.

Researchers say they have found a way to reduce the cost of some fuel cell production. The researchers are from Tufts University in the American state of Massachusetts.

Fuel cells create heat and electric power without pollution. Fuel cell technology uses hydrogen to create electricity. Hydrogen gas passes over a metal, like platinum or gold. Electrons from the hydrogen separate to form electricity. Proton particles that remain in the atom combine with oxygen to form water.

Some fuel cells require a lot of metal. And platinum costs even more than gold. Prices went up at the beginning of this year. That was after President Bush said the government would spend more than one-thousand-million dollars on fuel cell research.

But the scientists from Tufts say their findings could save millions of dollars. Their work involved the agent that causes the chemical reaction used to make hydrogen. Normally that agent is about ten percent gold or other costly metal.

The researchers used a chemical to slowly remove the gold from the agent. They discovered that the agent remained effective even after they removed ninety percent of the metal.

Maria Flytzani-Stephanopoulos is a professor of chemical and biological engineering who led the work. She says it will help researchers find a way to produce clean energy from fuel cells in a cost effective way. Another scientist says they must continue research to learn if smaller amounts of costly metals will work in other fuel cell processes.

The National Science Foundation provided money for the research. The findings appear in Science.

That publication also reported about a new, less costly agent for making hydrogen. The report says scientists at the University of Wisconsin made the agent from tin, aluminum and nickel. They say the process works as well with these as it does with platinum and other metals that cost much more.

Some automobile makers have tested hydrogen-powered vehicles. The American space agency has used fuel cells to produce electricity since the nineteen-sixties. But cost is an issue. Currently, hydrogen costs four times more to produce than gasoline. And fuel cells cost ten times more than traditional gasoline-burning engines.

This VOA Special English Environment Report was written by Caty Weaver.