Published: Monday, September 24, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 12:09
Brian Leonard, a professor of chemistry from the University of Wyoming, leads students and faculty through his research on synthesizing metal carbides at lower temperatures.
Chemistry students gathered Friday afternoon for a seminar from Brian Leonard, a professor of chemistry at the University of Wyoming. They discussed his research on synthesizing metal carbides at lower temperatures.
Leonard’s work focuses on fuel cells, which combine metals (metal carbides) as catalysts to create less expensive metals and generate electricity. He explained how fuel cells could power houses, hotels and cars. In the case of the car, they can create 50-60 percent fuel efficiency. Such a car is currently in prototype, though it is not yet cost-effective to sell to the general public.
“The most commonly used fuel cell catalyst material is platinum nanoparticles,” Leonard said. “In addition to being quite expensive, platinum has several problems when used in fuel cells including poisoning, particle agglomeration and dissolution.”
Metal carbides are less expensive and often easier to melt at lower temperatures, which wastes less energy and time.
A major carbide used in his research is tungsten carbide, which is tough (9.5 hardness compared to diamond’s 10) and relatively inexpensive.
Benefits of using these carbides include clean energy solutions for cars and buildings, traction for tires and even production of clean water. But there are also some problems with traditional carbide synthesis, generally related to the number of resources available.
To work toward overcoming those obstacles, Leonard has invented carbon nanotube templated carbides. Bulk metals are combined with multi-wall carbon nanotubes to create metal carbide nanotubes.
Leonard and his student assistants have tested this with other carbide systems.
“All of them seem to have this general wire-like system,” Leonard said. “The amount of time and temperatures needed with these metal carbide nanotubes are significantly lower than they would be for each individual component.”
Leonard brought his seminar to a close by informing the crowd of his current research, which is to extend this process to binary carbides. Leonard noted that most metals will form the same type of structure and have good morphology control, nanotubes with small diameters and vast surface area.