Chemical Could Revolutionize Polymer Fuel Cells.
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology appear to have solved one problem that was blocking the development of smaller fuel cells for use in cars and small electronics, although bigger hurdles still remain.
Polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells have long been considered the most promising fuel cells for portable use, but their low operating temperature gives them a very low rate of efficiency. Ceramic fuel cells currently on the market run around 800 degrees Celsius, far too hot for most portable applications such as small electronics.
Polymer fuel cell membranes need to be relatively cool so that membranes can retain the moisture they need to conduct protons. Using water to cool the membrane meant using operating at temperatures below 100 degrees Celsius, seriously reducing their efficiency.
The Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have discovered that replacing the water with a chemical called triazole allows them to increase their PEM fuel cell operating temperatures to above 120 degrees Celsius.
A larger problem that remains is that all present fuel cells rely on a platinum catalyst to generate the elctricity. Platinum is such a rare element that it would not be possible to build enough fuel cells under present technology to run all the cars presently on the road. So the search for a hydrogen solution goes on.