Scientists at the Institute of Atomic and Molecular Science in Taiwan have reported that a carbon-based catalyst loaded with vitamin B12 showed promise as a low-cost alternative to platinum in fuel cells.

In order to generate electricity, hydrogen fuel cells require an oxygen reduction reaction at the cathode together with an oxidiztation reaction (producing water) at the anode. Oxygen reduction reactions are slow and need a catalyst to speed them up. The most effective catalyst is platinum, which is very expensive.

The researchers in Taiwan have dispensed with the need for platinum altogether, by using cheap carbon that has vitamin B12 dispersed throughout, to form the cathode. The performance of this cathode doesn’t quite match that of platinum-based cathodes but is a fraction of the cost.

(Vitamin B12 is the largest and most structurally complicated vitamin. It is involved in the metabolism of every cell of the human body. It can be produced industrially through a bacterial fermentation process.)