Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

android tablet pc

Home > Press > A new way to build membranes for fuel cells

Postdoctoral researcher Avni Argun and professor Paula Hammond in the lab where they developed new technology for making fuel-cell membranes. 
Photo: Patrick Gillooly
Postdoctoral researcher Avni Argun and professor Paula Hammond in the lab where they developed new technology for making fuel-cell membranes. Photo: Patrick Gillooly

Layer-by-layer assembly system could lead to improved fuel cells, batteries and solar panels

A new way to build membranes for fuel cells

Cambridge, MA | Posted on February 17th, 2010

A team of researchers at MIT and Pennsylvania State University has been developing a new method for producing novel kinds of membranes that could have improved properties for batteries, fuel cells and other energy conversion and storage applications.

After years of working on a novel way of making membranes through a unique layer-by-layer assembly, the team has developed a material specifically designed for the needs of advanced fuel cells — devices that can convert fuel to electricity without combustion, thereby avoiding the emission of any pollutants or greenhouse gases. This material has now undergone laboratory testing to determine its actual properties, which confirm the predictions and show the material's promise. The results were recently reported in the journal Chemistry of Materials.

Electrolytes, used in both batteries and fuel cells, are materials that contain many ions (atoms or molecules that have a net electrical charge), making it easy for an electric current to flow through them. In both batteries and fuel cells, this material is sandwiched between two electrodes — a positive electrode (called the cathode) on one side, and a negative one (called the anode) on the other. In a battery, that's all there is, but in a fuel cell there are channels on each side, carrying a fuel (usually hydrogen or methanol) over the anode, and oxygen or air over the cathode. That enables fuel cells to keep producing electricity indefinitely, as long as there is a supply of fuel and air.

In a fuel cell, the electrolyte membrane also serves a second function, to keep the fuel on one side of the cell from migrating across to the other side. Such migration contaminates the cell and can lead to a significant drop in efficiency. One big advantage of the new membranes produced by the MIT-developed process is that they are especially good at blocking the migration of methanol fuel.

Direct-methanol fuel cells are considered a promising clean-energy source because they efficiently convert fuel to electricity without combustion, so they don't emit any pollutants to the air. And unlike the hydrogen used for some fuel cells, methanol is a liquid that is easy to store and transport in conventional tanks.

Layer by layer

The basic layer-by-layer system for making the membranes works like this: a substrate, such as a sheet of glass or metal, is dipped into a bath of solution that deposits a layer on the surface. It is then transferred to a second solution, which deposits a layer of a different material, then back to the first bath, and so on. The thicknesses of the layers can be controlled at the nanometer scale, and the layers bond tightly to one another because of electrostatic forces. At the end of the process, the multilayer coating can then be peeled off the substrate with tweezers, or left in place.

The researchers say this approach can produce materials that could not be made by other presently available methods. Svetlana Sukhishvili, professor of chemistry, chemical biology and biomedical engineering at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, says "In my view, the technology is very promising and highly suited to integrate the two potentially conflicting yet crucially needed properties — mechanical strength and high ionic conductivity — in a single polymer material." Sukhishvili, who was not involved in the research, calls this approach "a significant breakthrough" for the production of fuel-cell membranes.

Tests showed that when alternating two kinds of polymer coatings with different properties, the resulting membrane had properties intermediate between the two polymers, including how easily ions could move through it.

One potential advantage of such a system is that it could produce electrolytes that are firmly bonded to the fuel-cell electrodes on either side of them. In conventional fuel cells, the three parts are made separately and then pressed together, and these bonds can be a source of inefficiency. With the new process, the membrane could be formed directly on the electrode, creating a uniform and highly controlled membrane-electrode assembly.

No fuel cell can be 100 percent efficient in converting the fuel's energy to electricity, but the idea is to minimize as much as possible any energy losses in the system. "The majority of the losses are at these interfaces between electrodes and electrolyte", says the lead author of the new paper, Avni Argun, a postdoctoral researcher at MIT working with Paula Hammond, the Bayer Professor of Chemical Engineering. By creating interfaces that are tightly bonded, the efficiency and reliability of the systems can be improved, he says. As a result, he says, "you can reduce the cost, or increase the performance, compared to incumbent technologies."

By improving the efficiency of the system, it should be possible to reduce the amount of platinum needed in the electrodes — a major contributor to the current high costs of fuel cells.

The group, which also includes undergraduate student Marie Herring, as well as J. Nathan Ashcraft PhD '09, and two researchers from Penn State, is in the process of licensing the process to a membrane manufacturer, DyPol, that hopes initially to produce membranes for laboratory research, and ultimately for commercial production. "Any promising result we see in the lab can be adapted very quickly for production," Argun says.

The layer-by-layer method was originally developed as a method for applying coatings to other materials. "Three years ago, we never thought this would be a viable method for making membranes," Argun says. While the new membranes still need to be tested in actual fuel cell assemblies, the team is optimistic; "we are more focused now on using this process as a membrane-producing technology," he says. And in addition to fuel cells, they could also be used as electrolytes in advanced batteries and solar cells, he says.

Hammond says the technology can be very quickly scaled up to produce coatings for membranes for fuel cells. Ultimately, she says, membranes produced by this method "have the potential to outperform Nafion," the material currently used in such cells, because of their improved impermeability to methanol.

"This layer-by-layer approach may allow for the rapid synthesis of membranes with unique properties," says John Muldoon, a researcher in the materials research department of the Toyota Research Institute of North America. He adds that it may find a wide range of applications, including in such areas as drug delivery, gas separation, and electrochemical devices such as solar cells, batteries, and fuel cells. But some work remains to be done to make these functions practical, he says: "When applied in the fuel cell, the current technology seems to have the advantage of low fuel crossover" — that is, leakage of methanol through the membrane. "However, its conductivity will have to be dramatically improved to have any practical value in fuel cell application."


About MIT
The mission of MIT is to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century.

For more information, please click here

Copyright © MIT

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related News Press

News and information

Sopping up proteins with thermosponges: Researchers develop novel nanoparticle platform that proves effective in delivering protein-based drugs October 22nd, 2014

Brookhaven Lab Launches Computational Science Initiative:Leveraging computational science expertise and investments across the Laboratory to tackle "big data" challenges October 22nd, 2014

Bipolar Disorder Discovery at the Nano Level: Tiny structures found in brain synapses help scientists better understand disorder October 22nd, 2014

NIST offers electronics industry 2 ways to snoop on self-organizing molecules October 22nd, 2014


Ucore's McKenzie to Deliver Presentation to Rare Earths Conference in Singapore as Highlight of Fall 2014 Marketplace Schedule October 19th, 2014

Australian teams set new records for silicon quantum computing October 12th, 2014

Nanoparticles get a magnetic handle: New method produces particles that can glow with color-coded light and be manipulated with magnets October 9th, 2014

NIST quantum probe enhances electric field measurements October 8th, 2014

Possible Futures

Imaging electric charge propagating along microbial nanowires October 20th, 2014

Superconducting circuits, simplified: New circuit design could unlock the power of experimental superconducting computer chips October 18th, 2014

Nanocoatings Market By Product Is Expected To Reach USD 8.17 Billion By 2020: Grand View Research, Inc. October 15th, 2014

Perpetuus Carbon Group Receives Independent Verification of its Production Capacity for Graphenes at 140 Tonnes per Annum: Perpetuus Becomes the First Manufacturer in the Sector to Allow Third Party Audit October 7th, 2014

Self Assembly

NIST offers electronics industry 2 ways to snoop on self-organizing molecules October 22nd, 2014

‘Designer’ nanodevice could improve treatment options for cancer sufferers October 22nd, 2014

Crystallizing the DNA nanotechnology dream: Scientists have designed the first large DNA crystals with precisely prescribed depths and complex 3D features, which could create revolutionary nanodevices October 20th, 2014

New Topical Hemostatic Agent: Neutral Self-Assembling Peptide Hydrogel September 30th, 2014


NanoTechnology for Defense (NT4D) October 22nd, 2014

Mechanism behind nature's sparkles revealed October 22nd, 2014

TARA Biosystems and Harris & Harris Group Form Company to Improve Safety and Efficacy of New Therapies October 22nd, 2014

Researchers patent a nanofluid that improves heat conductivity October 22nd, 2014


Researchers patent a nanofluid that improves heat conductivity October 22nd, 2014

Could I squeeze by you? Ames Laboratory scientists model molecular movement within narrow channels of mesoporous nanoparticles October 21st, 2014

First Canada Excellence Research Chair gets $10 million from the federal government for oilsands research at the University of Calgary: Federal government announces prestigious research chair to study improving oil production efficiency October 19th, 2014

Magnetic mirrors enable new technologies by reflecting light in uncanny ways October 16th, 2014

Battery Technology/Capacitors/Generators/Piezoelectrics/Thermoelectrics/Energy storage

Super stable garnet ceramics may be ideal for high-energy lithium batteries October 21st, 2014

Graphenea opens US branch October 16th, 2014

NTU develops ultra-fast charging batteries that last 20 years October 14th, 2014

Electrically conductive plastics promising for batteries, solar cells October 10th, 2014

Fuel Cells

Unique catalysts for hydrogen fuel cells synthesized in ordinary kitchen microwave oven October 14th, 2014

Researchers Pump Up Oil Accumulation in Plant Leaves: Method could greatly boost energy content of crops grown for fuel October 8th, 2014

Platinum meets its match in quantum dots from coal: Rice University's cheap hybrid outperforms rare metal as fuel-cell catalyst October 1st, 2014

Iranian Researchers Synthesize Stable Ceramic Nanopowders at Room Temperature September 20th, 2014


European Commission opens the gate towards the implementation of Nanomedicine Translation Hub October 16th, 2014

IRLYNX and CEA-Leti to Streamline New CMOS-based Infrared Sensing Modules Dedicated to Human-activities Characterization October 15th, 2014

New VDMA Association "Electronics, Micro and Nano Technologies" founded: Inaugural Meeting in Frankfurt/Main, Germany October 15th, 2014

VDMA photonics steering committee with new members stronger than ever October 14th, 2014


Magnetic mirrors enable new technologies by reflecting light in uncanny ways October 16th, 2014

Dyesol Signs Letter of Intent with Tata Steel October 13th, 2014

DNA nano-foundries cast custom-shaped metal nanoparticles: DNA's programmable assembly is leveraged to form precise 3D nanomaterials for disease detection, environmental testing, electronics and beyond October 10th, 2014

Over 100 European experts meet in Barcelona thanks to a COST Action coordinated from ICN2: The ISOS-7 Summit discusses the future of organic photovoltaic devices October 7th, 2014

The latest news from around the world, FREE

  Premium Products
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
University Technology Transfer & Patents
 Learn More
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More

Nanotechnology Now Featured Books


The Hunger Project

© Copyright 1999-2014 7th Wave, Inc. All Rights Reserved PRIVACY POLICY :: CONTACT US :: STATS :: SITE MAP :: ADVERTISE