A second major hurdle to the acceptance of lithium-ion batteries is their high cost, much of it due to the catalysts that must be added to speed up fuel cell chemical processes. In the most commonly used fuel cells, the anode is covered with a costly noble metal powder that reacts with the fuel. Researchers at Finland's Aalto University have developed a fuel cell manufacturing method with ALD that allows the cover to be much thinner and more uniform, lowering costs and boosting performance.
The Finnish method depends on the use of alcohol instead of the more common hydrogen as a fuel, along with a catalyst made of palladium. The most common catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells is platinum, which is twice as expensive as palladium. In addition, alcohol is easier to handle and store than the more commonly used hydrogen fuel. The research team says commercial production could start in five to 10 years.
Meanwhile, the plastics processor Rehau, one of 80 partners in the EU's lightweight StreetScooter short distance concept EV, is developing thermoplastic battery housings to save weight and avoid corrosion. Plastic's low thermal conductivity also eliminates the need for the foam sheet thermal insulation used in metal housings. In Rehau's Ultralitec process, up to 27 layers of fiber-reinforced thermoplastic are heated and compression molded. They are then combined with other components added via injection molding to create a battery housing with half the volume and a third less weight than an equivalent housing made of metal.