platinum plating for photovoltaic solar panels

With the development of new processing methods and due to its unique properties, platinum became integral to many pieces of modern technology. Now about 20 percent of all manufactured goods globally either contain platinum – including catalytic converters, dental equipment, electrodes and jewelry – or used as a catalyst when making detergents, explosives, plastics and other industrial processes. Platinum energy resources contribute to sustainability and makes a positive environmental impact – especially in the world of renewable energy, with one of the most exciting developments involving the use of platinum plating being the development of hydrogen fuel cells.

The Growing Importance of Platinum

Platinum neither dissolves in acids nor does it tarnish in air, and it’s in a class of metals along with iridium, osmium, palladium, rhodium and ruthenium. This whitish metal also has better hardness than silver, though it’s still ductile and malleable. Unlike copper, iron, silver or other metals, platinum does not tarnish easily, which makes it perfect for applications involving electricity. Platinum additionally helps components maintain low voltage contacts and contact resistance levels, so helps in the transfer or storage of electrical energy.

Advantages of Platinum & Platinum Plating

Because of its properties, platinum plating extends the metal’s properties to any less durable metals for which it’s used to coat. Its non-reactive surface makes platinum plating desirable as a finish for components requiring stability, offering excellent electrical conductivity for low voltage contacts (those using 50 V or less). Platinum’s properties also promote corrosion-resistance, durability, hardness and heat resistance.

Advantages of platinum plating include: 

  • Acting as a sacrificial barrier to prevent corrosion to base material in substrates.
  • Augmenting hardness to make parts less susceptible to denting, wearing and scratching.
  • Increasing lifespans of platinum-coated mechanical components.
  • Making parts less prone to dents, scratches or other wear.
  • Offering heat-resistance to keep the metal from cracking, fatigue, heat corrosion and softening.
  • Resisting corrosion and most acids.
  • Withstanding tarnishing to lengthen components lifecycles.

With its high melting point of 1768°C (3215°F) and oxidation-resistance, platinum works particularly well as a coating that can protect other metals or alloys in applications involving energy generation. The thicker the platinum plating, the more durable the components are when exposed to extreme conditions.

Forming Platinum Plating

To transfer the durability and other properties of platinum, plating will ordinarily range between about .05 to 5 microns. The thickness of the platinum plating will depend on the application, with colors varying from matte gray to a tin-like white, depending on the material over which it is overlaid, the process being used and the thickness of the plating. Platinum can coat a variety of materials as well, including brass, copper, iron alloys like stainless steel and titanium.

Platinum & Renewable Energy

Many sources of renewable energy rely on platinum to function. The metal is used in the fabrication of high-grade glasses used in components for photovoltaic solar panels, as well as high-quality fiberglass that’s used for wind turbines. Additionally, green hydrogen production uses offshore wind energy to separate hydrogen atoms from water via electrolysis, which involves use of a proton exchange membrane (PEM) that includes platinum.

Perhaps one of the most exciting uses for platinum involves hydrogen fuel cells, which also employ PEM technology. Considered to be the next step for electric vehicles (EVs), hydrogen fuel cell technology involves the use of platinum plating for oxygen anode terminals, flow fields, and catalysts. Though certain analysts see the use of platinum declining in vehicles as internal combustion engines featuring catalytic converters are replaced by EVs, others see hydrogen cell technology replacing current EV batteries.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells, EVs & Platinum Plating

In fact, EVs that utilize hydrogen fuel cells with platinum plated components are already being developed and will eventually replace the battery-powered EV. Adding platinum plating that’s just one nanometer thick over a cobalt core would vastly decrease the cost of fuel cells. Though hydrogen energy cells do have a storage element to them, hydrogen actually acts as a fuel that generates the electricity to power the EV. Vehicles powered by fuel cells are proving to have over double the efficiency of internal combustion engines, while producing only water as a waste product.  

These hydrogen fuel cells contain a titanium screen with platinum plating, which form the anode in a hydrogen fuel cell. Platinum acts as a catalyst, splitting hydrogen into positively charged hydrogen ions and electrons. The hydrogen gas passes through an electrolyte membrane made of a polymer, which captures the electrons and enables their use for producing electrical current, after which it passes through the membrane.

This platinum becomes the catalyst to split the hydrogen into electrons and positively charged hydrogen ions. This gas is then passed through a polymer electrolyte membrane allowing the electrons to be captured and used as an electrical current while allowing the protons to pass through the membrane. The hydrogen byproduct is then combined with oxygen and released as water.

Hydrogen fuel cells have a number of advantages over today’s EV batteries, especially for heavy long-haul transport. Though EV batteries are more efficient, fuel cells convert fuel into electricity and, so long as fuel is available, there’s no need to stop for long periods to recharge. Additionally, hydrogen fuel cells come with a battery component to store energy as it’s generated. 

Some of the prime differences between fuel cells and current EV batteries involve: 

  • Weight: For long range over-the-road trucks, hydrogen has greater energy density than batteries, meaning the powertrain will weigh less. There can be up to a two ton difference in weight between battery-powered and fuel cell-powered long haul trucks, meaning hydrogen cell technology will allow for heavier loads and an extended driving range.
  • Infrastructure: Presently, infrastructure for charging batteries or filling hydrogen fuel cells is a challenge. As gasoline-powered cars led to the rise of the gas station in the early 20th century, these difficulties aren’t insurmountable. Already, high-powered charging stations are lessening the charging time for EVs, while the main problem with fuel cells involves distribution. Through the use of electrolysis, as mentioned above, and other advances in fuel cell technology, this issue can easily be resolved as well.
  • Downtime: When an EV battery gets low on energy, it requires recharging. This means any heavy truck running on an electric battery will need to coordinate when and where it recharges. Trucks using fuel cells require considerably less waiting when refueling, meaning less downtime for drivers.
  • Distance: Along with the greater distance trucks can travel with fuel cells, another factor is the time it takes to refuel. Even lighter, battery-powered EVs can take hours to charge, whereas hydrogen fuel cells take only take about 15 minutes, somewhat longer than it takes to refuel conventional diesel-powered trucks. As fuel cells are also less sensitive to colder temperatures than EV batteries, this also increases the distance they can travel without refueling.
  • Cost: A 2020 Hydrogen Council report suggests that for heavy or medium commercial trucks, hydrogen fuel cells present the lowest cost choice for decarbonization of over-the-road transport, with battery-powered trucking less efficient due to battery costs, higher weights, larger sizes and longer recharging times. Though the cost of platinum plating as a catalyst presents a challenge, advancements in fuel cell technology will mean less of these expensive materials will be needed.

Hydrogen fuel cells can also be used in a range of applications beyond fuel for heavy vehicles. Besides over-the-road transport, they can power commercial, industrial or residential buildings, while also providing energy storage for electrical grids when used in reversible systems.

Contact the Experts at Silvex, Inc.

When it comes to sustainability and the world of renewable energy, platinum energy resources make a critical positive environmental impact. At Silvex, our platinum plating solutions provide countless advantages to your application, which makes it a popular surface finishing option and great investment – regardless of the industry you’re in. Contact us today to speak with our experienced team about your next project!