Making Methanol Fuel Cells Better
Many researchers and engineers have wanted to replace batteries in consumer electronics with methanol fuel cells for a while, but their big weakness so far has been the proton membrane. "The more protons cross the membrane, the more power is generated. But the polymers that conduct protons well also tend to let the methanol solution into the other compartment. The resulting loss of fuel lowers the cells' power output." Kind of a catch 22. Until now!
Read on for more details.
Chemical-engineering professor Paula Hammond of MIT explains in a paper published in Advanced Materials that a new inexpensive membrane (shown in the first pic above -- looks kind of like regular plastic) can reduce methanol crossover and increase the efficiency of the methanol fuel cell by more than 50%.
Using a relatively new technique known as layer-by-layer assembly, the MIT researchers created an alternative to Nafion. "We were able to tune the structure of [our] film a few nanometers at a time," Hammond said, getting around some of the problems associated with other approaches. The result is a thin film that is two orders of magnitude less permeable to methanol but compares favorably to Nafion in proton conductivity.
If such fuel cells became widespread in portable electronics, they would both benefit the customer by giving them longer periods of use between charges (or refueling, in this case), and the environment (especially if the methanol is produced in a clean and carbon neutral way). It would potentially be win-win.
Via Technology Review, MIT News
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