MIT just announced that its engineers have improved the power output of one of their fuel cells, by over a startling 50%. What’s even more surprising is that the new material that makes this increase in efficiency possible, is actually cheaper than conventional methods.
The research was done on direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs), which utilize methanol as a fuel rather than the more commonly known hydrogen cells. Among the advantages of using methanol over hydrogen is that being a liquid, and not highly volatile, it is easier to store and transport, it has a high energy density, and it’s easy to refuel, there is no specialized fuel station necessary, just pump (or pour) and go.
Traditional DMFCs have a membrane made of Nafion, an expensive material, and one that is also permeable to methanol, which means you waste some of your fuel without getting anything out of it. So the team at MIT designed a new nanomaterial, using a technique known as layer-by-layer assembly, to create an alternative. “We were able to tune the structure of [our] film a few nanometers at a time,” says one of the researchers. This new film, which is cheaper to produce, is also 2 orders of magnitude less permeable to methanol, thus conserving fuel and greatly improving power output.
This advance could play a big role in portable electronics (such as the LG latop pictured). We recently saw that DMFCs are already on the market, and coming soon for cameras, though they are a bit bulky, but this new technology could halve the size of the units, making them more attractive for compact portable electronics.
The researchers are now looking at seeing whether their membrane could be used in improving the efficiency of photovoltaics. We certainly hope so.
written by David, May 30, 2008
|< Prev||Next >|