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

Oxford Instruments announces Dr Brad Ramshaw of Cornell University, as winner of the 2017 Lee Osheroff Richardson Science Prize February 20th, 2017

Nominations Invited for $250,000 Kabiller Prize in Nanoscience: Major international prize recognizes a visionary nanotechnology researcher February 20th, 2017

Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms: In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport February 20th, 2017

'Lossless' metamaterial could boost efficiency of lasers and other light-based devices February 20th, 2017

Videos/Movies

Graphene foam gets big and tough: Rice University's nanotube-reinforced material can be shaped, is highly conductive February 13th, 2017

First ever blueprint unveiled to construct a large scale quantum computer February 3rd, 2017

The shape of melting in two dimensions: University of Michigan team uses Titan to explore fundamental phase transitions February 2nd, 2017

Metallic hydrogen, once theory, becomes reality: Harvard physicists succeed in creating 'the holy grail of high-pressure physics' January 28th, 2017

Possible Futures

Nominations Invited for $250,000 Kabiller Prize in Nanoscience: Major international prize recognizes a visionary nanotechnology researcher February 20th, 2017

Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms: In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport February 20th, 2017

'Lossless' metamaterial could boost efficiency of lasers and other light-based devices February 20th, 2017

Particles from outer space are wreaking low-grade havoc on personal electronics February 19th, 2017

Self Assembly

In-cell molecular sieve from protein crystal February 14th, 2017

Synthetic nanoparticles achieve the complexity of protein molecules: Study published in Science reveals the structure of the largest gold nanoparticles to-date and the self-assembly mechanisms behind their formation January 25th, 2017

Self-assembling particles brighten future of LED lighting January 18th, 2017

Manchester scientists tie the tightest knot ever achieved January 13th, 2017

Announcements

Oxford Instruments announces Dr Brad Ramshaw of Cornell University, as winner of the 2017 Lee Osheroff Richardson Science Prize February 20th, 2017

Nominations Invited for $250,000 Kabiller Prize in Nanoscience: Major international prize recognizes a visionary nanotechnology researcher February 20th, 2017

Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms: In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport February 20th, 2017

'Lossless' metamaterial could boost efficiency of lasers and other light-based devices February 20th, 2017

Energy

'Lossless' metamaterial could boost efficiency of lasers and other light-based devices February 20th, 2017

In-cell molecular sieve from protein crystal February 14th, 2017

NREL research pinpoints promise of polycrystalline perovskites February 8th, 2017

Metallic hydrogen, once theory, becomes reality: Harvard physicists succeed in creating 'the holy grail of high-pressure physics' January 28th, 2017

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

Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms: In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport February 20th, 2017

Researchers optimize the assembly of micro-/meso-/macroporous carbon for Li-S batteries February 13th, 2017

Dual-function nanorod LEDs could make multifunctional displays February 11th, 2017

Nano-level lubricant tuning improves material for electronic devices and surface coatings February 11th, 2017

Fuel Cells

Scientists boost catalytic activity for key chemical reaction in fuel cells: New platinum-based catalysts with tensile surface strain could improve fuel cell efficiency December 19th, 2016

It's basic: Alternative fuel cell technology reduces cost: Study sets performance targets for metal-free fuel cell membrane December 13th, 2016

Keeping electric car design on the right road: A closer look at the life-cycle impacts of lithium-ion batteries and proton exchange membrane fuel cells December 9th, 2016

Water vapor sets some oxides aflutter: Newly discovered phenomenon could affect materials in batteries and water-splitting devices October 3rd, 2016

Alliances/Trade associations/Partnerships/Distributorships

Leti Coordinating Project to Adapt Obstacle-Detection Technology Used in Autonomous Cars for Portable and Wearable Systems: INSPEX to Combine Knowhow of Nine European Organizations to Create Portable and Wearable Spatial-Exploration Systems February 2nd, 2017

GLOBALFOUNDRIES Expands Partner Program to Speed Time-to-Market of FDX™ Solutions: Increased support affirms FDXcelerator™ Program’s vital role in promoting broader deployment of GLOBALFOUNDRIES’ FDX™ portfolio December 15th, 2016

Infrared instrumentation leader secures exclusive use of Vantablack coating December 5th, 2016

Leti and Grenoble Partners Demonstrate World’s 1st Qubit Device Fabricated in CMOS Process: Paper by Leti, Inac and University of Grenoble Alpes Published in Nature Communications November 28th, 2016

Solar/Photovoltaic

'Lossless' metamaterial could boost efficiency of lasers and other light-based devices February 20th, 2017

Material can turn sunlight, heat and movement into electricity -- all at once: Extracting energy from multiple sources could help power wearable technology February 9th, 2017

NREL research pinpoints promise of polycrystalline perovskites February 8th, 2017

A big nano boost for solar cells: Kyoto University and Osaka Gas effort doubles current efficiencies January 21st, 2017

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