Research Highlight

Green fuel cells for space stations

doi:10.1038/nindia.2015.69 Published online 26 May 2015

Researchers have synthesized an iron catalyst that can be used in fuel cells based on hydrogen peroxide1. These fuel cells are potentially green energy sources since they produce only water and oxygen as by-products.

The researchers synthesized the iron catalyst using the organic compound phenalenyl. They then coated the surface of a glassy carbon electrode with the iron catalyst, which acted as cathode against a nickel anode.

The scientists performed electrochemical measurements to explore the potential of the iron catalyst to electrochemically break down hydrogen peroxide in acetate buffer and compared the results with those for four other iron catalysts.

They found that the iron-catalyst-coated cathode showed a large increase in current with a low onset potential, indicating the catalyst’s ability to reduce hydrogen peroxide and convert chemical energy into electricity. Compared to the other four catalysts, the iron catalyst enhanced the power output of a hydrogen peroxide fuel cell by nearly 140 times.

The researchers attribute this high power output to phenalenyl, which enhances the catalytic activity of the iron catalyst by storing electrons.

“Unlike fuel cells based on gaseous hydrogen, which needs to be stored in a high-pressure environment, fuel cells based on liquid hydrogen peroxide can be used as portable power sources in space stations, remote military camps and marine environments,” says lead researcher Swadhin Mandal.

The authors of this work are from: Department of Chemical Sciences, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata and Physical and Materials Chemistry Division, CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, India.


1. Pariyar, A. et al. Switching closed-shell to open-shell phenalenyl: toward designing electroactive materials. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 137, 5955–5960 (2015)