Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors


Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button


DHgate

Home > Press > Methane-powered laptops may be closer than you think

Top view, cathode side, of a free-standing Pt/YSZ/Pt fuel cell showing characteristic buckling patterns. The cell width is 160 microns. Photo courtesy of Shriram Ramanathan
Top view, cathode side, of a free-standing Pt/YSZ/Pt fuel cell showing characteristic buckling patterns. The cell width is 160 microns. Photo courtesy of Shriram Ramanathan

Abstract:
SEAS materials scientists unveil tiny, low-temperature methane fuel cells

Methane-powered laptops may be closer than you think

Cambridge, MA | Posted on November 17th, 2010

Making fuel cells practical and affordable will not happen overnight. It may, however, not take much longer.

With advances in nanostructured devices, lower operating temperatures, and the use of an abundant fuel source and cheaper materials, a group of researchers led by Shriram Ramanathan at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) are increasingly optimistic about the commercial viability of the technology.

Ramanathan, an expert and innovator in the development of solid-oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), says they may, in fact, soon become the go-to technology for those on the go.

Electrochemical fuel cells have long been viewed as a potential eco-friendly alternative to fossil fuels—especially as most SOFCs leave behind little more than water as waste.

The obstacles to using SOFCs to charge laptops and phones or drive the next generation of cars and trucks have remained reliability, temperature, and cost.

Fuel cells operate by converting chemical energy (from hydrogen or a hydrocarbon fuel such as methane) into an electric current. Oxygen ions travel from the cathode through the electrolyte toward the anode, where they oxidize the fuel to produce a current of electrons back toward the cathode.

That may seem simple enough in principle, but until now, SOFCs have been more suited for the laboratory rather than the office or garage. In two studies appearing in the Journal of Power Sources this month, Ramanathan's team reported several critical advances in SOFC technology that may quicken their pace to market.

In the first paper, Ramanathan's group demonstrated stable and functional all-ceramic thin-film SOFCs that do not contain any platinum.

In thin-film SOFCs, the electrolyte is reduced to a hundredth or even a thousandth of its usual scale, using densely packed layers of special ceramic films, each just nanometers in thickness. These micro-SOFCs usually incorporate platinum electrodes, but they can be expensive and unreliable.

"If you use porous metal electrodes," explains Ramanathan, "they tend to be inherently unstable over long periods of time. They start to agglomerate and create open circuits in the fuel cells."

Ramanathan's platinum-free micro-SOFC eliminates this problem, resulting in a win-win: lower cost and higher reliability.

In a second paper published this month, the team demonstrated a methane-fueled micro-SOFC operating at less than 500° Celsius, a feat that is relatively rare in the field.

Traditional SOFCs have been operating at about 800-1000°C, but such high temperatures are only practical for stationary power generation. In short, using them to power up a smartphone mid-commute is not feasible.

In recent years, materials scientists have been working to reduce the required operating temperature to about 300-500°C, a range Ramanathan calls the "sweet spot."

Moreover, when fuel cells operate at lower temperatures, material reliability is less critical—allowing, for example, the use of less expensive ceramics and metallic interconnects—and the start-up time can be shorter.

"Low temperature is a holy grail in this field," says Ramanathan. "If you can realize high-performance solid-oxide fuel cells that operate in the 300-500°C range, you can use them in transportation vehicles and portable electronics, and with different types of fuels."

The use of methane, an abundant and cheap natural gas, in the team's SOFC was also of note. Until recently, hydrogen has been the primary fuel for SOFCs. Pure hydrogen, however, requires a greater amount of processing.

"It's expensive to make pure hydrogen," says Ramanathan, "and that severely limits the range of applications."

As methane begins to take over as the fuel of choice, the advances in temperature, reliability, and affordability should continue to reinforce each other.

"Future research at SEAS will explore new types of catalysts for methane SOFCs, with the goal of identifying affordable, earth-abundant materials that can help lower the operating temperature even further," adds Ramanathan.

Fuel cell research at SEAS is funded by the same NSF grant that enabled the "Robobees" project led by Robert J. Wood, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering. Wood and Ramanathan hope that micro-SOFCs will provide the tiny power source necessary to get the flying robots off the ground.

Ramanathan's co-authors on the papers were Bo Kuai Lai, a Research Associate at SEAS, and Ph.D. candidate Kian Kerman '14.

####

For more information, please click here

Contacts:
Caroline Perry
617-496-1351

Copyright © Harvard University

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

Scientists illuminate a hidden regulator in gene transcription: New super-resolution technique visualizes important role of short-lived enzyme clusters May 27th, 2016

Doubling down on Schrödinger's cat May 27th, 2016

Finding a new formula for concrete: Researchers look to bones and shells as blueprints for stronger, more durable concrete May 26th, 2016

Deep Space Industries and SFL selected to provide satellites for HawkEye 360’s Pathfinder mission: The privately-funded space-based global wireless signal monitoring system will be developed by Deep Space Industries and UTIAS Space Flight Laboratory May 26th, 2016

Possible Futures

Doubling down on Schrödinger's cat May 27th, 2016

Harnessing solar and wind energy in one device could power the 'Internet of Things' May 26th, 2016

Thermal modification of wood and a complex study of its properties by magnetic resonance May 26th, 2016

Finding a new formula for concrete: Researchers look to bones and shells as blueprints for stronger, more durable concrete May 26th, 2016

Academic/Education

Graphene: Progress, not quantum leaps May 23rd, 2016

Smithsonian Science Education Center and National Space Society Team Up for Next-Generation Space Education Program "Enterprise In Space" May 11th, 2016

The University of Colorado Boulder, USA, combines Raman spectroscopy and nanoindentation for improved materials characterisation May 9th, 2016

Albertan Science Lab Opens in India May 7th, 2016

Announcements

Scientists illuminate a hidden regulator in gene transcription: New super-resolution technique visualizes important role of short-lived enzyme clusters May 27th, 2016

Doubling down on Schrödinger's cat May 27th, 2016

Finding a new formula for concrete: Researchers look to bones and shells as blueprints for stronger, more durable concrete May 26th, 2016

Deep Space Industries and SFL selected to provide satellites for HawkEye 360’s Pathfinder mission: The privately-funded space-based global wireless signal monitoring system will be developed by Deep Space Industries and UTIAS Space Flight Laboratory May 26th, 2016

Energy

Harnessing solar and wind energy in one device could power the 'Internet of Things' May 26th, 2016

Gigantic ultrafast spin currents: Scientists from TU Wien (Vienna) are proposing a new method for creating extremely strong spin currents. They are essential for spintronics, a technology that could replace today's electronics May 25th, 2016

Light can 'heal' defects in new solar cell materials: Defects in some new electronic materials can be removed by making ions move under illumination May 24th, 2016

Technique improves the efficacy of fuel cells: Research demonstrates a new phase transition from metal to ionic conductor May 18th, 2016

Automotive/Transportation

Technique improves the efficacy of fuel cells: Research demonstrates a new phase transition from metal to ionic conductor May 18th, 2016

A View Through Wood Shows Futuristic Applications: Transparent wood made at UMD could create new windows, cars and solar panels May 5th, 2016

Speedy ion conduction in solid electrolytes clears road for advanced energy devices May 5th, 2016

New spin Seebeck thermoelectric device with higher conversion efficiency created April 26th, 2016

Fuel Cells

Technique improves the efficacy of fuel cells: Research demonstrates a new phase transition from metal to ionic conductor May 18th, 2016

Ruthenium nanoframes open the doors to better catalysts April 4th, 2016

Saving sunshine for a rainy day: New catalyst offers efficient storage of green energy: Team led by U of T Engineering designs world's most efficient catalyst for storing energy as hydrogen by splitting water molecules March 28th, 2016

Carbon leads the way in clean energy: Groundbreaking research at Griffith University is leading the way in clean energy, with the use of carbon as a way to deliver energy using hydrogen March 23rd, 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