Today’s Solutions: February 08, 2023

Thanks to its nutrient-rich profile, spinach has long been touted as a superfood worthy to be included in any diet. But this leafy green vegetable also has the potential to revolutionize fuel cell technology, according to a recent proof-of-principle experiment conducted by a team of scientists at American University.

As reported by Ars Technica, scientists have long tried to exploit spinach’s high density of energy-generating molecules for industrial use. And the recent experiment proved that this green superfood can actually make an excellent renewable carbon-based catalyst.

Fuel cells typically rely on platinum-based catalysts, which can be rather expensive. And when carbon-based catalysts are used instead, they most often fail to outperform platinum. But adding a pinch of salt to spinach leaves, and then blending, freeze-drying, and heat-treating them into layers of nanosheets actually proved to work more efficiently than platinum fuel cells, according to the research published in ACS Omega.

“This work suggests that sustainable catalysts can be made for an oxygen reduction reaction from natural resources,” said the study’s lead author Shouzhong Zou. “The method we tested can produce highly active, carbon-based catalysts from spinach, which is renewable biomass. In fact, we believe it outperforms commercial platinum catalysts in both activity and stability.”

While the successful experiment was primarily intended as a proof-of-concept, assuming the tech scales, the experts believe that using spinach to improve the performance and sustainability of fuel cell technology may not be as far-fetched as previously thought.

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