Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Latest fuel cell material advance overcomes low humidity conductivity problem

12.09.2006
Fuel cells have been a workable technology for decades – but expensive and lacking in infrastructure. In recent years, researchers have addressed durability, manufacturability, and conductivity challenges in alternative proton exchange membrane (PEM) materials for fuel cells – bringing the hydrogen-based energy source closer to reality.

James McGrath, University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry with the Macromolecules and Interfaces Institute at Virginia Tech, will announce his research group's latest development, a PEM material that retains conductivity during low humidity, during his plenary lecture at the Challenges for the Hydrogen Economy symposium during the 232nd National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) on September 10-14 in San Francisco.

Fuel cells convert chemical energy, usually from hydrogen, to electrical energy. In a PEM fuel cell, the critical exchange takes place through a thin water-swollen copolymer film that contains sulfonic acid (SO3H) groups. Electrons are peeled off by oxidation of the hydrogen atoms and hydrated protons pass through the film to combine with oxygen on the other side to form water as a byproduct.

The efficiency of the exchange process depends upon water, so efficiency – measured as proton conductivity – goes down as humidity goes down. "Up to now, a lot of water has been needed to assist the proton transfer process," said McGrath. "But, in the desert, that is pretty inefficient." McGrath, chemical engineering Professor Don Baird, and their students demonstrated a method for creating a material with improved conductivity even at lower humidity. The U.S. Department of Energy awarded McGrath and Baird's groups $1.5 million over five years to advance the research.

Instead of stirring two kinds of reactive monomers, or small molecules, together to form a new random copolymer, the new material links blocks of two different short polymers in sequences. For example, he would link polymer W (loves water) and polymer d (dry but strong) into a chain this way: WWWWWdddddddWWWWWdddddddd.

The researchers can link a 10- to 50-unit block of a polymer containing acidic groups (SO3H) that like water (hydrophilic) to an equally long block of a polymer that has mechanical strength, thermal stability, and endurance, but hates water (hydrophobic). The chains self-assemble into flexible thin films. Under an atomic force microscope, the film's swirling surface looks like a fingerprint, with light ridges and dark channels. It turns out that the soft hydrophilic polymer forms the dark channels where water is easily absorbed so that the entire film – or proton exchange membrane (PEM) – has an affinity for water transport that is two to three times higher than the present commercially available PEM.

In addition to making PEM materials with better qualities, another goal of the research is to make PEM materials that can be easily manufactured. The self-assembling nature of the block copolymer material into a nanocomposite film is an important attribute. In addition, Baird is working on processing the film from powders using a reverse roll coater, equipment commonly available in the coatings industry but not yet being used to produce PEM material. McGrath will present the paper, "Progress in alternate proton exchange membrane materials for fuel cells (Fuel 3)," at 10:15 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, in the Golden Ballroom of the Sheraton Palace.

Susan Trulove | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.vt.edu

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht New gel-like coating beefs up the performance of lithium-sulfur batteries
22.03.2017 | Yale University

nachricht Pulverizing electronic waste is green, clean -- and cold
22.03.2017 | Rice University

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

When Air is in Short Supply - Shedding light on plant stress reactions when oxygen runs short

23.03.2017 | Life Sciences

Researchers use light to remotely control curvature of plastics

23.03.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Sea ice extent sinks to record lows at both poles

23.03.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>