Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors





Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button


android tablet pc

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

Harris & Harris Group to Host Conference Call on Second-Quarter 2014 Financial Results on August 15, 2014 July 23rd, 2014

UCF Nanotech Spinout Developing Revolutionary Battery Technology: Power the Next Generation of Electronics with Carbon July 23rd, 2014

Deadline Announced for Registration in 7th Int'l Nanotechnology Festival in Iran July 23rd, 2014

A Crystal Wedding in the Nanocosmos July 23rd, 2014

Possible Futures

IBM Announces $3 Billion Research Initiative to Tackle Chip Grand Challenges for Cloud and Big Data Systems: Scientists and engineers to push limits of silicon technology to 7 nanometers and below and create post-silicon future July 10th, 2014

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

Academic/Education

Haydale Announces Collaboration Agreement with Swansea University’s Welsh Centre for Printing and Coatings (WCPC) July 12th, 2014

STFC takes delivery of the 100th Hitachi Tabletop SEM in the UK July 3rd, 2014

Innovation Management and the Emergence of the Nanobiotechnology Industry July 1st, 2014

Albany NanoCollege Faculty Member Selected as Editor-in-Chief of the Prestigious Journal of Electronic Materials July 1st, 2014

Announcements

Harris & Harris Group to Host Conference Call on Second-Quarter 2014 Financial Results on August 15, 2014 July 23rd, 2014

UCF Nanotech Spinout Developing Revolutionary Battery Technology: Power the Next Generation of Electronics with Carbon July 23rd, 2014

Deadline Announced for Registration in 7th Int'l Nanotechnology Festival in Iran July 23rd, 2014

A Crystal Wedding in the Nanocosmos July 23rd, 2014

Energy

Oregon chemists eye improved thin films with metal substitution: Solution-based inorganic process could drive more efficient electronics and solar devices July 21st, 2014

Steam from the sun: New spongelike structure converts solar energy into steam July 21st, 2014

3-D nanostructure could benefit nanoelectronics, gas storage: Rice U. researchers predict functional advantages of 3-D boron nitride July 15th, 2014

Nanotechnology that will impact the Security & Defense sectors to be discussed at NanoSD2014 conference July 8th, 2014

Automotive/Transportation

Using Sand to Improve Battery Performance: Researchers develop low cost, environmentally friendly way to produce sand-based lithium ion batteries that outperform standard by three times July 8th, 2014

Up in Flames: Evidence Confirms Combustion Theory: Berkeley Lab and University of Hawaii research outlines the story of soot, with implications for cleaner-burning fuels July 1st, 2014

Nanofluids Improve Performance of Automobile Radiator July 1st, 2014

Iranian Researchers Produce Protein Nanoparticles from Chicken Feather June 11th, 2014

Fuel Cells

Media Advisory: Minister Rempel to Announce Support for Alberta's Nanotechnology Sector June 20th, 2014

Evolution of a Bimetallic Nanocatalyst June 6th, 2014

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

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