Fuel Cells Gets A Power Up With Spinach

Spinach is a vegetable full of nutrients and antioxidants and it originated in Persia. Most of us got the motivation to eat it from the cartoon character Popeye when we were kids.

Image Source – shutterstock

A group lead by Shouzhong Zou from the chemistry department, at American University found out a way to conduct the improvement of fuel cells with the help of spinach by forming it into carbon nanosheets. During the research, the spinach was brought from the local market and a carbon-rich catalyst was made which can be used in fuel cells and metal-air batteries. Spinach was used as a precursor mainly for an outstanding catalyst needed for oxygen reduction reactions (ORRs) in fuel cells.

Shouzhong Zou said that “We were a little bit lucky to pick up spinach, because of its high iron and nitrogen content. At this point, our method does require us to add a little bit more nitrogen into the starting material, because even though spinach has a lot of nitrogen, to begin with, during the preparation process, some of this nitrogen gets lost.”

Apart from containing iron and nitrogen (both essential in ORRs) spinach can be harvested easily and “definitely cheaper than platinum,” Zou added. Sodium chloride and Potassium chloride were also added in the process to increase the surface area during the reaction.

For building the spinach nanosheets the spinach was washed, juiced, and freeze-dried before forming it into powder. A small amount of nitrogen was added to the spinach for performance improvement.

Many factors were willing the American University team to use spinach. They are –

  • Spinach is a source of biomass that will always be available. “Sustainability is a very important factor in our consideration,” mentioned Zou.
  • Carbon footprint can be kept down during the catalyst preparation.
  • The spinach based catalyst is a budget-friendly and less toxic than the platinum-based catalysts.
  • It is a great resource as a plant-derived catalyst as it survives in low temperatures.

Zou warns that the research is now a proof-of-principle saying “We need to be very careful when we talk about practical applications because something that shows excellent performance in lab conditions could become more challenging when we implement them in the real device.”

He also added,“there is still some tuning we need to do to see if they can work through a range of pH.

The next part is to test a complete prototype with the catalyst obtained from spinach in a fuel cell. Zou accepts “That’s the kind of expertise I don’t have in my lab at this point.” “We are thinking about collaborating with other groups, or we can build up our expertise in this area because it’s a necessary step.”

Source – spectrum

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