Fuel Cell Innovation Update

The week I started this blog in August 2008, there were [intlink id=”5″ type=”post” target=”_blank”]three major fuel-cell related discoveries[/intlink] making the rounds in the science magazines. Since then, there have been [intlink id=”7″ type=”post” target=”_blank”]new announcements every week[/intlink] of an [intlink id=”229″ type=”post” target=”_blank”]improved catalyst or membrane or electrolyte[/intlink]. As these discoveries mature into real products and enter the market, the option of using fuel cells for energy storage, both for homes as well as vehicles, will become more and more cost-effective.

Energy storage is potentially a big part of the zero-net energy house picture, and is certainly critical for the hydrogen automobile transition. I thought I’d highlight a few recent discoveries and advances in the world of fuel cells, the “energy storage of the future.”

  • Cheaper Fuel Cells with nanotubes instead of platinum:

    “Fuel cells haven’t been commercialized for larger-scale applications because platinum is too expensive,” says Liming Dai, a materials-engineering professor at the University of Dayton, in Ohio, who led the work. “For electrodes, you need a cheaper material that still has a high performance.”

  • A new catalyst could make ethanol fuel cells practical for portable gadgets

    The new catalyst, developed by researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory, breaks the carbon bonds without high voltages, efficiently releasing enough electrons to produce electrical currents 100 times higher than those produced with other catalysts.

  • A new fuel cell uses a cheap nickel catalyst

    Now researchers in China have developed a fuel cell that uses a new membrane material to operate in alkaline conditions, eliminating the need for an expensive catalyst. The power output of the new prototype, which uses nickel as a catalyst, is still relatively low, but it provides a first demonstration of a potentially much less expensive fuel cell.

  • A novel low-temperature electrolyte could make solid-oxide fuel cells more practical

    Solid-oxide fuel cells are promising for next-generation power plants because they are more efficient than conventional generators, such as steam turbines, and they can use a greater variety of fuels than other fuel cells. They can generate electricity with gasoline, diesel, natural gas, and hydrogen, among other fuels. But the high temperatures required for efficient operation make solid-oxide fuel cells expensive and limit their applications.

Home-generated energy is sustainable, non-polluting, and carbon-free. As the price of energy generation continues to drop, it’s possible to imagine [intlink id=”329″ type=”post” target=”_blank”]the nation’s homes becoming the nation’s power plant[/intlink]. But that can’t happen until we have effective home-based energy storage.

3 thoughts on “Fuel Cell Innovation Update”

  1. I am learning so much from you and checking into your blog roll folks..Thank you I liked to learn new things.

    I am going to ask a plain folks question here because my honey laughed at me when I asked him

    I can see the advantages of fuel cells, but my impression is they are very easily explodable and can cause fire and great damage and they are dangerous….Is this just a mythology I have going for me and other moms or will they be so smart, the new ones, that they will not be such a problem?

    Patricia’s last blog post..I Request the Honor of your Comments

    1. Patricia – I think the explodable problem is somewhat legitimate, but of course the same thing can be said of gasoline. Hydrogen is flammable, but my understanding is that it’s not too difficult to make a safe hydrogen fuel cell. The image that always leaps to mind is the Hindenburg, of course – but its big problem was its highly flammable skin. Chances are that’s what caught on fire, and then the hydrogen, once it was exposed to fire, started burning. And in an airship, once the hydrogen is gone, it doesn’t fly anymore.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *