Hydrogen highway The hydrogen infrastructure for consists of hydrogen-equipped filling stationswhich are supplied with hydrogen via compressed hydrogen tube trailersliquid hydrogen tank trucks or dedicated onsite production, and some industrial hydrogen pipeline transport.
Methanol-powered micro fuel cells are racing toward market, promising up to 20 hours of cell-phone talk time. Closer inspection shows a circuit-board-like pattern of black platinum and ruthenium printed on either side. The contraption is the innards of a five-centimeter-bycentimeter power plant that generates its own electricity using methanol as fuel.
These miniature power plants, called micro fuel cells, promise a huge power boost for portable electronics ranging from cell phones to laptop computers to future generations of power-hungry, Web-enabled handheld devices.
Fuel cells are, of course, already bursting onto the market in other forms-and in far bigger sizes. Electrolux has even prototyped a cordless fuel-cell vacuum cleaner. Among other advantages, fuel cells use readily available sources of energy-namely, hydrogen or methanol-and produce only water, carbon dioxide and heat as waste products.
This story is part of our November Issue Subscribe Now, industry is gearing up to make fuel cells small enough for consumer electronics. Building practical fuel cells this small-devices that produce one-tenth of a watt to 50 watts-presents huge engineering and materials challenges, but the market opportunity is enormous.
This industry is going to kick. The competitors are betting on different designs-and even slightly different chemistries-but they share a common goal: The first successful application is likely to be methanol fuel cells that produce approximately one-tenth of a watt and can recharge conventional batteries, liberating consumers from the dashboard lighter or the wall socket.
Next will be fuel cells small enough to actually fit in the battery compartments of existing phones and yet powerful enough-one watt for cell phones, 50 watts for laptop computers-to be used for direct power. Even farther on the horizon, microchips will be directly powered by built-in fuel cells.
These fuel cells will provide a boon to miniaturization by removing the need for separate power sources. And production costs should drop when both chip and power source are fabricated as one unit. Self-powered chips, in turn, could enable a future generation of self-sufficient gadgets, like tiny networked sensors that can operate in remote areas, detecting pollutants, biowarfare toxins or anything else that needs detecting, and sending out the data for months.
Getting Small The problem with conventional batteries is that they rely on electrochemistry that dates to the late 18th century, and they have some severe limitations. Most notably, once the supply of chemicals inside the battery has finished reacting, the battery goes dead.
You must either connect it to a charger plugged into the wall socket or throw it away-preferably in the recycle bin because of toxic ingredients like cadmium and mercury.
Fuel cells are more complex, but they carry fundamental advantages. Moreover, thanks to the high-energy fuels they use, fuel cells produce more energy for their weight than batteries ever will.
But fuel cells are tough to engineer, and the smaller ones are toughest of all. The design challenges for micro fuel cells start with the choice of fuel.
To manage a liquid fuel, tiny pumps and pipes are required. Not even the most ardent cell-phone users would tolerate power supplies that drip on their shoulders, so fuel cells must evaporate the water.
All fuel cells create heat; the small versions operate at anywhere from 15 degrees C to a scalding 60 degrees C. While this provides a means to evaporate waste water, it also requires the right balance of insulation and venting. Cramming all of this into a nifty package the size of a couple of AA cells presents a real challenge.
A half-dozen companies are working on variations on this theme, including Manhattan Scientifics. Mechanical Technology has already cofounded a company that sells refrigerator-sized commercial and residential fuel-cell power plants.
Now, Mechanical Technology is setting its sights on smaller things, starting with charging devices. He says the company has developed tiny fluid systems that would continually recycle the water in the methanol-water fuel mixture.
Replacement cartridges could just carry undiluted methanol. Hallmark adds it will likely take three to five years for any company-including Motorola-to begin selling a product. Packing a Punch What Motorola and the other companies want most of all, though, are battery-like fuel cells that snap right onto phones and other electronics, to power them directly.
To realize this vision, the companies are pursuing varied strategies. New York City-based Medis Technologies believes it can make a fuel cell that could replace the cell-phone battery, providing 20 hours of cell-phone talk time and hundreds of hours of standby on a single fuel cartridge.
As one of the outcomes of the “Three Amigos” meeting in Ottawa, Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, US President Barack Obama, and Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto committed to an “ambitious and enduring” North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership. A key element of that partnership is a goal.
Get up-to-the-minute environmentally-friendly (or egregiously unfriendly) car news, reviews, high-quality photos and commentary about living green.
It must offer significant benefits, as it has not only inspired the development of a type of fuel cell dedicated to its use – the direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) – but is also becoming increasingly popular as a source of hydrogen for systems based on proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC).
Graphene oxide (GO) is potentially a useful electrolyte material for polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells due to its high strength, excellent hydrogen gas barrier properties, hydrophilicity, and proton conducting acidic functional groups.
A fuel cell is an electrochemical cell that converts the chemical energy from a fuel into electricity through an electrochemical reaction of hydrogen fuel with oxygen or another oxidizing agent. Fuel cells are different from batteries in requiring a continuous source of fuel and oxygen (usually from air) to sustain the chemical reaction, whereas in a battery the chemical energy comes from.