MIT engineers have improved the power output of one type of fuel cell by more than 50 percent through technology that could help these environmentally friendly energy storage devices find a much broader market, particularly in portable electronics.
The new material key to the work is also considerably less expensive than its conventional industrial counterpart, among other advantages.
“Our goal is to replace traditional fuel-cell membranes with these cost-effective, highly tunable and better-performing materials,” said Paula T. Hammond, Bayer Professor of Chemical Engineering and leader of the research team. She noted that the new material also has potential for use in other electrochemical systems such as batteries.
The work was reported in a recent issue of Advanced Materials by Hammond, Avni A. Argun and J. Nathan Ashcraft. Argun is a postdoctoral associate in chemical engineering; Ashcraft is a graduate student in the same department.
Like a battery, a fuel cell has three principal parts: two electrodes (a cathode and anode) separated by an electrolyte. Chemical reactions at the electrodes produce an electronic current that can be made to flow through an appliance connected to the battery or fuel cell. The principal difference between the two? Fuel cells get their energy from an external source of hydrogen fuel, while conventional batteries draw from a finite source in a contained system.
The MIT team focused on direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs), in which the methanol is directly used as the fuel and reforming of alcohol down to hydrogen is not required. Such a fuel cell is attractive because the only waste products are water and carbon dioxide (the latter produced in small quantities). Also, because methanol is a liquid, it is easier to store and transport than hydrogen gas, and is safer (it won't explode). Methanol also has a high energy density-a little goes a long way, making it especially interesting for portable devices.
The DMFCs currently on the market, however, have limitations. For example, the material currently used for the electrolyte sandwiched between the electrodes is expensive. Even more important: that material, known as Nafion, is permeable to methanol, allowing some of the fuel to seep across the center of the fuel cell. Among other disadvantages, this wastes fuel-and lowers the efficiency of the cell- because the fuel isn't available for the reactions that generate electricity.Using a relatively new technique known as layer-by-layer assembly, the MIT researchers created an alternative to Nafion. “We were able to tune the structure of [our] film a few nanometers at a time,”
Hammond said, getting around some of the problems associated with other approaches. The result is a thin film that is two orders of magnitude less permeable to methanol but compares favorably to Nafion in proton conductivity.
To test their creation, the engineers coated a Nafion membrane with the new film and incorporated the whole into a direct methanol fuel cell. The result was an increase in power output of more than 50 percent.
The team is now exploring whether the new film could be used by itself, completely replacing Nafion. To that end, they have been generating thin films that stand alone, with a consistency much like plastic wrap.
This work was supported by the DuPont-MIT Alliance through 2007. It is currently supported by the National Science Foundation.
In addition, Hammond and colleagues have begun exploring the new material's potential use in photovoltaics. That work is funded by the MIT Energy Initiative. This Institute-wide initiative includes research, education, campus energy management and outreach activities, an interdisciplinary approach that covers all areas of energy supply and demand, security and environmental impact.
Written by Elizabeth Thomson, MIT News Office
Elizabeth A. Thomson | MIT News Office
Neutrons pave the way to accelerated production of lithium-ion cells
20.03.2018 | Technische Universität München
Monocrystalline silicon thin film for cost-cutting solar cells with 10-times faster growth rate fabricated
16.03.2018 | Tokyo Institute of Technology
In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.
Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...
Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.
They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...
A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...
For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.
In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...
Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...
19.03.2018 | Event News
16.03.2018 | Event News
13.03.2018 | Event News
21.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
21.03.2018 | Materials Sciences
21.03.2018 | Life Sciences