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

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

Characterizing inkjet inks: Malvern Instruments presents new rheological research April 23rd, 2014

NanoSafe, Inc. announces the addition of the Labconco Protector® Glove Box to its NanoSafe Tested™ registry April 23rd, 2014

Study finds long-term survival of human neural stem cells transplanted into primate brain April 23rd, 2014

High-Performance, Low-Cost Ultracapacitors Built with Graphene and Carbon Nanotubes: Future devices based on technology could bridge gap between batteries and conventional capacitors in portable electronics and hybrid electric vehicles April 23rd, 2014

Videos/Movies

Like a hall of mirrors, nanostructures trap photons inside ultrathin solar cells April 22nd, 2014

Tiny particles could help verify goods: Chemical engineers hope smartphone-readable microparticles could crack down on counterfeiting April 15th, 2014

Biologists Develop Nanosensors to Visualize Movements and Distribution of Plant Stress Hormone April 15th, 2014

Director Wally Pfister joins UC Berkeley neuroengineers to discuss the science behind ‘Transcendence’ April 7th, 2014

Possible Futures

Virus structure inspires novel understanding of onion-like carbon nanoparticles April 10th, 2014

Local girl does good March 22nd, 2014

Surface Characteristics Influence Cellular Growth on Semiconductor Material March 12th, 2014

The "Tipping Point" February 12th, 2014

Self Assembly

Roomy cages built from DNA: Self-assembling cages are the largest standalone 3-D DNA structures yet, and could one day deliver drugs, or house tiny bioreactors or photonic devices March 13th, 2014

Cypress’s TrueTouch® Touchscreen Controllers Compatible with Cima NanoTech’s SANTE® Silver Nanoparticle-Based Touch Sensors: Supporting Designs for Advanced Touch Applications March 5th, 2014

Coupled carbon and peptide nanotubes achieved for the first time: twins nanotubes March 1st, 2014

A potentially revolutionnary material: Scientists produce a novel form of artificial graphene February 15th, 2014

Announcements

Characterizing inkjet inks: Malvern Instruments presents new rheological research April 23rd, 2014

NanoSafe, Inc. announces the addition of the Labconco Protector® Glove Box to its NanoSafe Tested™ registry April 23rd, 2014

Study finds long-term survival of human neural stem cells transplanted into primate brain April 23rd, 2014

High-Performance, Low-Cost Ultracapacitors Built with Graphene and Carbon Nanotubes: Future devices based on technology could bridge gap between batteries and conventional capacitors in portable electronics and hybrid electric vehicles April 23rd, 2014

Energy

Atomic switcheroo explains origins of thin-film solar cell mystery April 23rd, 2014

Like a hall of mirrors, nanostructures trap photons inside ultrathin solar cells April 22nd, 2014

Global leader in solar cell manufacturing eyes New York for major expansion outside of Japan: CNSE and Solar Frontier Explore $700 Million Investment, Job Creation in New York State April 22nd, 2014

Nanoreporters tell 'sour' oil from 'sweet': Rice University's hydrogen sulfide nanoreporters gather intel on oil before pumping April 22nd, 2014

Battery Technology/Capacitors/Generators/Piezoelectrics/Thermoelectrics

High-Performance, Low-Cost Ultracapacitors Built with Graphene and Carbon Nanotubes: Future devices based on technology could bridge gap between batteries and conventional capacitors in portable electronics and hybrid electric vehicles April 23rd, 2014

Transparent Conductive Films and Sensors Are Hot Segments in Printed Electronics: Start-ups in these fields show above-average momentum, while companies working on emissive displays such as OLED are fading, Lux Research says April 17th, 2014

Relieving electric vehicle range anxiety with improved batteries: Lithium-sulfur batteries last longer with nanomaterial-packed cathode April 16th, 2014

Catching the (Invisible) Wave: UC Santa Barbara researchers create a unique semiconductor that manipulates light in the invisible infrared/terahertz range, paving the way for new and enhanced applications April 11th, 2014

Fuel Cells

University of Surrey collaborates with India and Tata Steel to revolutionise renewable energy March 26th, 2014

Novel membrane reveals water molecules will bounce off a liquid surface: Study may lead to more efficient water-desalination systems, fundamental understanding of fluid flow March 16th, 2014

Big Step for Next-Generation Fuel Cells and Electrolyzers: Researchers at Berkeley and Argonne National Labs Discover Highly Promising New Class of Nanocatalyst February 27th, 2014

Research and applications of iron oxide nanoparticles February 26th, 2014

Alliances/Partnerships/Distributorships

Economics = MC2 -- A portrait of the modern physics startup: Successful companies founded by physicists often break the Silicon Valley model, according to new American Institute of Physics report April 23rd, 2014

Global leader in solar cell manufacturing eyes New York for major expansion outside of Japan: CNSE and Solar Frontier Explore $700 Million Investment, Job Creation in New York State April 22nd, 2014

ASM International Repositions Brand and Introduces New Logo; Looks to Future of Materials Science Innovation: New logo celebrates organization’s history and provides fresh elements for future growth April 21st, 2014

Virus structure inspires novel understanding of onion-like carbon nanoparticles April 10th, 2014

Solar/Photovoltaic

Atomic switcheroo explains origins of thin-film solar cell mystery April 23rd, 2014

Like a hall of mirrors, nanostructures trap photons inside ultrathin solar cells April 22nd, 2014

Global leader in solar cell manufacturing eyes New York for major expansion outside of Japan: CNSE and Solar Frontier Explore $700 Million Investment, Job Creation in New York State April 22nd, 2014

High-temperature plasmonics eyed for solar, computer innovation April 17th, 2014

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







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