I plan to do an in-depth post or series on fuel cells soon, because there is so much breakthrough work going on in this research area. Fuel cells are interesting on so many fronts – for example, they’re probably the best way to use the hydrogen generated by Daniel Nocera’s new hydrogen splitting method, announced in mid-August. And just since August, researchers have announced big improvements or cost reductions in every component of the fuel cell – membrane, catalyst, and electrodes.
This latest story from Technology Review covers a new membrane improvement for methanol fuel cells. As the article points out, methanol fuel cells have some key benefits compared to hydrogen cells, in particular that methanol is a liquid at normal temperatures, but they also have technical challenges. Paula Hammond and her team are addressing one of these:
In her lab at MIT, chemical-engineering professor Paula Hammond pinches a sliver of what looks like thick Saran wrap between tweezers. Though it appears unremarkable, this polymer membrane can significantly increase the power output of a methanol fuel cell, which could make that technology suitable as a lighter, longer-lasting, and more environmentally friendly alternative to batteries in consumer electronics such as cell phones and laptops.
Do you have questions about fuel cells that you’d like me to find answers to as I research my upcoming series? Let me know in the comments.