When used to power fuel cells, methanol and other hydrocarbon fuels release carbon monoxide, which can contaminate the expensive platinum electrodes now used to extract electrons from hydrogen gas. A common practice for eliminating that electrode "poison" requires high temperatures, which make it impossible to get rid of all the carbon monoxide, says chemical engineer James A. Dumesic of the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Now, he and his colleagues have developed a way to eradicate the contaminant at room temperature. The new approach, described in the Aug. 27 Science, promises to improve fuel cell performance while lowering costs and to wring energy from the decontamination.
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