Researchers think small to make progress towards better fuel cells

phys.org | 10/16/2018 | Staff
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As renewable sources such as wind and solar are quickly changing the energy landscape, scientists are looking for ways to better store energy for when it's needed. Fuel cells, which convert chemical energy into electrical power, are one possible solution for long-term energy storage, and could someday be used to power trucks and cars without burning fuel. But before fuel cells can be widely used, chemists and engineers need to find ways to make this technology more cost-effective and stable.

A new study from the lab of Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor Christopher Murray, led by graduate student Jennifer Lee, shows how custom-designed nanomaterials can be used to address these challenges. In ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, researchers show how a fuel cell can be built from cheaper, more widely available metals using an atomic-level design that also gives the material long-term stability. Former post-doc Davit Jishkariani and former students Yingrui Zhao and Stan Najmr, current student Daniel Rosen, and professors James Kikkawa and Eric Stach, also contributed to this work.

Chemical - Reaction - Fuel - Cell - Relies

The chemical reaction that powers a fuel cell relies on two electrodes, a negative anode and a positive cathode, separated by an electrolyte, a substance that allows the ions to move. When fuel enters the anode, a catalyst separates molecules into protons and electrons, with the latter traveling toward the cathode and creating an electric current.

Catalysts are typically made of precious metals, like platinum, but because the chemical reactions only occur on the surface of the material, any atoms that are not presented on the surface of the material are wasted. It's also important for catalysts to be stable for months and years because fuel cells are very difficult to replace.

Chemists - Problems - Custom - Nanomaterials - Surface

Chemists can address these two problems by designing custom nanomaterials that have platinum at the surface while using more common metals, such...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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