The pollution rates have been increasing at alarming rates and the consequences are multiplying exponentially. Recently, Paris has banned 60% of its cars as heatwave worsens air pollution. Car exhaust is said to be one of the most pervasive forms of pollution. The internal combustion engines dump tons of nitrogen oxides, ozone, dangerous particulates, and carbon monoxide in urban areas throughout the world.
The shift from gasoline and diesel cars to optimised electric vehicles has been the hottest research topic and now is the need of the hour. A car that doesn’t pollute, runs on hydrogen gas and emits only fresh and clean water is what we are heading towards. Sanjeev Mukherjee, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at the Northeastern University, has spent his entire career on developing clean energy and here’s his take on fuel cell powered cars. Mukerjee, who founded Northeastern’s Center for Renewable Energy Technology, says, “our chief research mission is fuel cells and batteries: clean energy transmission and storage.” Talking about the fuel cells, he says that their mechanism is simple chemistry, as hydrogen ions combine with the oxygen in the air to form water and release stored chemical energy in the process.
This reaction takes place within a specially designed catalyst membrane, ensuring that the reaction results in usable electricity, instead of explosive heat or light. Since the energy is transformed directly into electricity, fuel cells are many times more efficient than traditional combustion engines. Fuel cells are restrained because of their cost, as most of the effective radiators for the reaction involve using noble metals, mainly platinum. Mukerjee’s research focuses on developing catalysts that don’t rely on expensive, rare metals, bringing the cost of fuel cells down and creating a competitive alternative to fossil fuels.
Mukerjee concludes by saying that this is a quiet revolution, and he sees great potential in energy storage technology. He hopes that these advances will eventually lead to a fully decentralised power grid.