Just two days ago, we spoke about the major breakthrough in energy storage by MIT scientists in finding a cheap catalyst for the oxygen-producing electrode in fuel cells. The ramaining problem was the need to use expensive platinum nanoparticles for the second, hydrogen-producing electrode. The small amount of platinum needed for a typical fuel-cell car would cost about $4,000.

Now, scientists at the Australian Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science at Monash University, led by Maria Forsyth, have developed an alternative catalyst – a polymer called poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene), or PEDOT. Professor Forsyth estimates that the cost of a PEDOT-based electrode would only add a few hundred dollars to the price of a fuel-cell vehicle. PEDOT-based electrodes are also much more stable than platinum ones.

The researchers are now developing a three-dimensional fuel cell to maximise the surface area of the electrode and are already speaking to car manufacturers about using their technology.

Professor Forsyth says that the PEDOT electrodes could also be used in zinc-air batteries which many believe will eventually replace lithium-ion batteries.