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Can nanotechnology transform hydrogen fuel cell cars

Using nanotechnology to give fuel cells more oomph by David Salisbury Aug. Eugene McBrayer Professor of Chemical Engineering at Vanderbilt, that replaces the conventional electrodes used in fuel cells. The nanofiber electrodes boost the power output of fuel cells by 30 percent while being less expensive and more durable than conventional catalyst layers. The technology has been patented by Vanderbilt and licensed to Merck KGaA in Germany, which is working with major auto manufacturers in applying it to the next generation of automotive fuel cells.

Fuel cells need fuel and air to run, like a gasoline engine, but they produce electricity, like a battery. Air is pumped into the other side.

  • Department of Energy's DOE Brookhaven National Laboratory—in research published online September 18, 2013 in the journal Nature Communications—have created a high-performing nanocatalyst that meets all these demands;
  • This impure fuel—40 percent less expensive than the pure hydrogen produced from water—remains largely untapped;
  • Today, researchers are hot on the trail of a new way to extract hydrogen from water;
  • Nano-infused batteries in electric vehicles are on their way to offering longer range, shorter charging times, and a more environmentally-friendly construction.

At the anode, the hydrogen is oxidized into protons. The protons flow to the cathode where the air is channeled, reducing the oxygen to form water.

Nanotechnology and cars, inside and out

Special catalysts in the anode and cathode allow these reactions to occur spontaneously, producing electricity in the process. Fuel cells convert fuel to electricity with efficiencies ranging from 40 percent to 60 percent. They have no moving parts so they are very quiet. With the only waste product being water, they are environmentally friendly.

Porous polymer fiber mats replace solid electrodes Conventional fuel cells use thin sheets of catalyst particles mixed with a polymer binder for the electrodes.

  • Your narrow dive pool may be deep, or even contain a larger volume of water, but its surface area is much smaller than the wide, shallow lap pool;
  • It can be extracted from water and does not need to be manufactured like other fuels;
  • And this is where nanotechnology comes into play.

The catalyst is typically platinum on carbon powder. The Vanderbilt approach replaces these solid sheets with mats made from a tangle of polymer fibers that are each a fraction of the thickness of a human hair made by a process called electrospinning.

Particles of catalyst are bonded to the fibers. The very small diameter of the fibers means that there is a larger surface area of catalyst available for hydrogen and oxygen gas reactions during fuel cell operation.

The pores between fibers in the mat electrode also facilitate the removal of the waste water. The unique fiber electrode structure results in higher fuel cell power, with less expensive platinum. Octagonal catalyst particles more effective Meanwhile at Georgia Tech, biomedical engineering professor Yuounan Xia has developed a method for carefully controlling the shape of nanoparticle catalyst for fuel cells.

In particular, he has produced platinum-nickel nanoparticles with a regular octagonal shape. The research teams will also be working with scientists at the national labs — Oak Ridge National LaboratoryLos Alamos National Laboratorythe National Renewable Energy Laboratoryand Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory — in an effort to improve the scientific understanding of why fuel cells work better with nanofiber mat electrodes.

With a better understanding of the interdependence of composition and nanostructure for fiber electrodes, we could accelerate the pace of our research, which would help us to achieve the cost and performance targets needed for automotive fuel cell commercialization.

  • Even interior fabrics can benefit from nanotechnology image by furzyk73 Conclusion With a wide array of applications for every conceivable part of a modern car nanotechnology looks set to transform vehicle manufacture;
  • The result will be a cleaner burn and enhanced performance for many years to come.