Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors

Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

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

Abstract:
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.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related News Press

News and information

Innovation in Nanotechnology is Focus of Symposium: Annual event brings international experts to Northwestern Oct. 6 September 29th, 2016

Cambrios at CEATEC - Japan 2016 September 29th, 2016

Picosun patents ALD nanolaminate to prevent electronics from overheating September 28th, 2016

Leti and Taiwanese Tech Organizations Sponsoring Workshop in Taipei on MEMS, IoT, Smart Lighting Applications, System Reliability & Security September 28th, 2016

Videos/Movies

Innovation in Nanotechnology is Focus of Symposium: Annual event brings international experts to Northwestern Oct. 6 September 29th, 2016

Possible Futures

Crystalline Fault Lines Provide Pathway for Solar Cell Current: New tomographic AFM imaging technique reveals that microstructural defects, generally thought to be detrimental, actually improve conductivity in cadmium telluride solar cells September 26th, 2016

Researchers at the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology show that bending semiconductors generates electricity September 26th, 2016

Chains of nanogold – forged with atomic precision September 23rd, 2016

Tattoo therapy could ease chronic disease: Rice-made nanoparticles tested at Baylor College of Medicine may help control autoimmune diseases September 23rd, 2016

Self Assembly

First multicellular organism inspires the design of better cancer drugs September 15th, 2016

A versatile method to pattern functionalized nanowires: A team of researchers from Hokkaido University has developed a versatile method to pattern the structure of 'nanowires,' providing a new tool for the development of novel nanodevices September 9th, 2016

Location matters in the self-assembly of nanoclusters: Iowa State University scientists have developed a new formulation to explain an aspect of the self-assembly of nanoclusters on surfaces that has broad applications for nanotechnology September 8th, 2016

Smarter self-assembly opens new pathways for nanotechnology: Brookhaven Lab scientists discover a way to create billionth-of-a-meter structures that snap together in complex patterns with unprecedented efficiency August 9th, 2016

Announcements

Innovation in Nanotechnology is Focus of Symposium: Annual event brings international experts to Northwestern Oct. 6 September 29th, 2016

Cambrios at CEATEC - Japan 2016 September 29th, 2016

Picosun patents ALD nanolaminate to prevent electronics from overheating September 28th, 2016

Leti and Taiwanese Tech Organizations Sponsoring Workshop in Taipei on MEMS, IoT, Smart Lighting Applications, System Reliability & Security September 28th, 2016

Energy

Cambrios at CEATEC - Japan 2016 September 29th, 2016

Crystalline Fault Lines Provide Pathway for Solar Cell Current: New tomographic AFM imaging technique reveals that microstructural defects, generally thought to be detrimental, actually improve conductivity in cadmium telluride solar cells September 26th, 2016

Researchers at the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology show that bending semiconductors generates electricity September 26th, 2016

Semiconducting inorganic double helix: New flexible semiconductor for electronics, solar technology and photo catalysis September 15th, 2016

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

Picosun patents ALD nanolaminate to prevent electronics from overheating September 28th, 2016

Semiconducting inorganic double helix: New flexible semiconductor for electronics, solar technology and photo catalysis September 15th, 2016

Researchers design solids that control heat with spinning superatoms: Carnegie Mellon University and Columbia University collaborators discover the cause of vastly different thermal conductivities in superatomic structural analogues September 8th, 2016

Fish 'biowaste' converted to piezoelectric energy harvesters: Jadavpur University researchers in India devised a way to recycle fish byproducts into an energy harvester for self-powered electronics September 8th, 2016

Fuel Cells

Carbon-coated iron catalyst structure could lead to more-active fuel cells September 15th, 2016

Imperial College use Kleindiek micromanipulators in their research into electrochemical energy devices September 6th, 2016

Iowa State engineers treat printed graphene with lasers to enable paper electronics September 2nd, 2016

Researchers reduce expensive noble metals for fuel cell reactions August 22nd, 2016

Alliances/Trade associations/Partnerships/Distributorships

PHENOMEN is a FET-Open Research Project aiming to lay the foundations a new information technology September 19th, 2016

SEMI and MSIG Join Together in Strategic Association Partnership: MEMS & Sensors Industry Group Brings New MEMS and Sensors Community to SEMI to Increase Combined Member Value September 15th, 2016

Leti and Oberthur Technologies Partner to Explore New Solutions in Fast-growing Digital Era September 12th, 2016

Synopsys Joins GLOBALFOUNDRIES’ FDXcelerator Partner Program to Enable Innovative Designs Using the FD-SOI Process: Program Gives Synopsys Access to GLOBALFOUNDRIES’ FDX Portfolio and Provides Customers with Tools that Support the Differentiated Features of FD-SOI September 8th, 2016

Solar/Photovoltaic

Cambrios at CEATEC - Japan 2016 September 29th, 2016

Crystalline Fault Lines Provide Pathway for Solar Cell Current: New tomographic AFM imaging technique reveals that microstructural defects, generally thought to be detrimental, actually improve conductivity in cadmium telluride solar cells September 26th, 2016

Semiconducting inorganic double helix: New flexible semiconductor for electronics, solar technology and photo catalysis September 15th, 2016

New perovskite research discoveries may lead to solar cell, LED advances September 12th, 2016

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE




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











ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project







Car Brands
Buy website traffic