CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--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 in
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Massachusetts Institute of Technology