Power Up with Banana Peels

In a story that can't help but conjure images of Doc Brown's "Mr. Fusion" in Back to the Future, Wired reports on the development of carbon-based fuel cells. Last month, SRI reported that they had developed direct carbon fuel-cell technology. Their researchers have shown that in a single step, they can take pulverized coal, or anything else that contains carbon -- we'll say banana peels, for example -- and directly transform the fuel's chemical energy into electricity by electrochemically oxidizing the carbon, much like the fuel cells we're more accustomed to talking about, minus the hydrogen, water vapor, etc. Two big differences with this setup: carbon fuel is easier to come by than hydrogen, and the byproduct of the electrochemical oxidation is carbon dioxide, though SRI claims it is emitted in such a pure form that it is easy to contain without allowing it to mix with (too much) air. According to a VP of physical sciences at SRI, the process is twice as efficient as traditional coal power plants, and despite being early in the process of development, they have high hopes for the new system. For now, the carbon fuel cells are producing small amounts of power on the scale of a few watts at SRI's laboratory in Menlo Park, California; SRI expects their capability to rise to 10 kilowatts by 2009, to 100 kilowatts by 2011 and to 500 kilowatts by 2015. ::SRI's Carbon Fuel Cells via ::Wired