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Does modeling hold the key to revolutionizing the way we travel?

Offering insight from the perspective of a Pipeline Pilot and Materials Studio user, Accelrys is pleased to host a posting written by guest blogger Dr. Misbah Sarwar, Research Scientist at Johnson Matthey. Dr. Sarwar recently completed a collaboration project focused on fuel cell catalyst discovery and will share her results in an upcoming webinar. This post provides a sneak peek into her findings..."In recent years there has been a lot of interest in fuel cells as a "green" power source in the future, particularly for use in cars, which could revolutionize the way we travel. A (Proton Exchange Membrane) fuel cell uses hydrogen as a fuel source and oxygen (from air), which react to produce water and electricity. However, we are still some time away from driving fuel cell cars, as there are many issues that need to be overcome for this technology to become commercially viable. These include improving the stability and reactivity of the catalyst as well as lowering their cost, which can potentially be achieved by alloying, but identifying the correct combinations and ratios of metals is key. This is a huge task as there are potentially thousands of different combinations and one where modeling can play a crucial role.As part of the iCatDesign project, a three-year collaboration with Accelrys and CMR Fuel Cells funded by the UK Technology Strategy Board, we screened hundreds of metal combinations using plane wave CASTEP calculations.In terms of stability, understanding the surface composition in the fuel cell environment is key. Predicting activity usually involves calculating barriers to each of the steps in the reaction, which is extremely time consuming and not really suited to a screening approach. Could we avoid these calculations and predict the activity of the catalyst based on adsorption energies or some fundamental surface property? Of course these predictions would have to be validated and alongside the modeling work, an experimental team at JM worked on synthesizing, characterizing and testing the catalysts for stability and activity.The prospect of setting up the hundreds of calculations, monitoring these and then analyzing the results seemed to us to be quite daunting and it was clear that some automation was required to both set up the calculations and process the results quickly. Using Pipeline Pilot technology (now part of Materials Studio Collection) protocols were developed which processed the calculations and statistical analysis tools developed to establish correlations between materials composition, stability and reactivity. The results are available to all partners through a customized web-interface.The protocols have been invaluable as data can be processed at the click of a button and customized charts produced in seconds. The timesaving is immense, saving days of endless copying, pasting and manipulating data in spreadsheets, not to mention minimizing human error, leaving us to do the more interesting task of thinking about the science behind the results. I look forward to sharing these results and describing the tools used to obtain them in more detail in the webinar, Fuel Cell Catalyst Discovery with the Materials Studio Collection, on 21st July."
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