Brazil is the world's largest producer of niobium and holds about 98 percent of the active reserves on the planet. This chemical element is used in metal alloys, especially high-strength steel, and in an almost unlimited array of high-tech applications from cell phones to aircraft engines. Brazil exports most of the niobium it produces in the form of commodities such as ferroniobium.
Another substance Brazil also has in copious quantities but underuses is glycerol, a byproduct of oil and fat saponification in the soap and detergent industry, and of transesterification reactions in the biodiesel industry. In this case the situation is even worse because glycerol is often discarded as waste, and proper disposal of large volumes is complex.
A study performed at the Federal University of the ABC (UFABC) in São Paulo State, Brazil, combined niobium and glycerol in a promising technological solution to the production of fuel cells. An article describing the study, entitled "Niobium enhances electrocatalytic Pd activity in alkaline direct glycerol fuel cells," is published in ChemElectroChem and featured on the cover of the journal.
"In principle, the cell will work like a glycerol-fueled battery to recharge small electronic devices such as cell phones or laptops. It can be used in areas not covered by the electricity grid. Later the technology can be adapted to run electric vehicles and even to supply power to homes. There are unlimited potential applications in the long run," chemist Felipe de Moura Souza, first author of the article told. Souza has a direct doctorate scholarship from São Paulo Research Foundation—FAPESP.
More information: Filipe M. Souza et al, Niobium Enhances Electrocatalytic Pd Activity in Alkaline Direct Glycerol Fuel Cells, ChemElectroChem (2019). DOI: 10.1002/celc.201901254