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Methanol could fuel computers, cell phones


Because methanol, as a liquid, would be easier to dispense using current infrastructure, it will likely be one of the first fuels for fuel cells.

Speaking at the 225th national meeting of the American Chemical Society March 23-27 in New Orleans, Yu Seung Kim, a former research scientist at Virginia Tech, will report the results of studies at Virginia Tech to determine the optimum materials for use as a proton exchange membrane in a methanol-based fuel cell.

Methanol is the simplest alcohol, explains Virginia Tech chemistry professor James McGrath. When used as fuel, it is diluted with water. In the fuel cell, the methanol-water molecule is stripped of an electron -- the energy source -- then the water and proton cross the proton exchange membrane to the fuel cell’s second chamber, where carbon dioxide and water are created as byproducts.

This paper reports the results of several studies to determine the optimum materials for use as a proton exchange membrane in a methanol-based fuel cell.

McGrath believes that methanol-based fuel cells could be developed before hydrogen-based fuel cells. "A liquid is easier to dispense using current infrastructure than gas," he says.

Methanol is the same consistency of windshield cleaning fluid and almost the same concentration will provide energy for computers and cell phones, McGrath says. "A container something like an ink jet cartridge would power a cell phone for a few days instead of a few hours."

The poster, "Methanol permeation of sulfonated poly(arylene ether sulfone) copolymers (Poly 185)," coauthored by Kim, who is now at Los Alamos National Lab; Limin Dong, Michael Hickner, and McGrath, all of Virginia Tech; and Bryan Pivovar of Los Alamos National Lab, will be presented 6 to 8 p.m. on Sunday, March 23, in the Convention Center Hall G.

Contact for more information Jim McGrath,,540-231-5976 or Yu Seung Kim at

PR CONTACT: Susan Trulove 540-231-5646,

Jim McGrath | EurekAlert!
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