Saturday, August 22, 2009

Key among

Key among these advantages is the ability to run on readily available fuels, such as methanol or even gasoline, which contain hydrogen bound to carbon and sometimes oxygen. The other five types of fuel cell can do this as well, but only with the help of additional hardware called a "reformer," which extracts pure hydrogen from these other fuels. These reformers cost extra money, add bulk to the engine, and sap power, cutting the engine's overall efficiency roughly in half.
Solid-oxide fuel cells are able to consume methanol-like fuels without reformers.
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Most of the environmental benefit of fuel cells is lost when hydrocarbon fuels are used, because extracting hydrogen from them leaves behind CO2 and pollutant gases that end up in the exhaust. But it helps solve the "chicken and egg" problem: Who's going to buy hydrogen-powered cars until most gas stations have hydrogen pumps? But what company is going to pay to install hydrogen pumps at hundreds of gas stations until there are plenty of fuel-cell cars on the road? Solid-oxide fuel cells can bridge the gap. They can run on methanol or gasoline now and then switch to pure hydrogen as it becomes available.
Image copyright Powertech Labs. more
Hydrogen fuelling stations like this one in Vancouver, Canada, are still rare. The vehicle fuelling up is a Ford FCV.
The thin-film variety being developed at TcSAM improves on this fuelling flexibility. Ignatiev explains: "Normal solid-oxide fuel cells can use fuels like methanol, but they become impaired over time as carbon coats the fuel cell's nickel electrode," he says. "This happens partly because of the cell's 1,000-degree operating temperature. Research shows that this doesn't happen - at least not to an appreciable degree - at the lower temperatures at which our cells operate."
TcSAM's fuel cells have not yet been tested with fuels other than pure hydrogen, Ignatiev says, but the scientists plan to perform tests with methanol-like fuels during the next stage of research.
There's still much work to be done. If all goes well, though, these thin films could pave the way to clean-running SUV's and other wonders of a hydrogen-based economy.

The portable

The portable electronics industry is also exploring miniature fuel cells as a more powerful, longer lasting replacement for batteries. Intel, for example, has funded a start-up company called PolyFuel to develop such a fuel cell for laptops.
Solid-oxide fuel cells are one of six types being developed today. Each depends on a different chemical trick to combine the hydrogen fuel with oxygen to produce power. The automotive industry is looking primarily at proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells to power tomorrow's cars, motorcycles and trucks, but some companies are also considering the advantages of the solid-oxide variety.

Fuel cells

Fuel cells promise to be the environmentally-friendly power source of the future, but some types run too hot to be practical. New research may have a solution.
Astronauts have been using them for power aboard spacecraft since the 1960s. Soon, perhaps, they'll be just as common on Earth - powering cars, trucks, laptop computers and cell phones.
They're called fuel cells.
By combining hydrogen fuel with oxygen, fuel cells can produce plenty of electric power while emitting only pure water as exhaust. They're so clean that astronauts actually drink the water produced by fuel cells on the space shuttle.
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In recent years the interest in bringing this environmentally friendly technology to market has become intense. But there are problems: You can't "fill 'er up" with hydrogen at most corner gas stations. And fuel cell-based cars and computers are still relatively expensive. These obstacles have relegated fuel cells to a small number of demo vehicles and some specialty uses, such as power aboard the space shuttle and back-up power