Fuel CellA closer look at catalysts is giving researchers a better sense of how these atom-thick materials produce hydrogen.

Their findings could accelerate the development of 2D materials for energy applications, such as fuel cells.

The researchers’ technique allows them to probe through tiny “windows” created by an electron beam and measure the catalytic activity of molybdenum disulfide, a two-dimensional material that shows promise for applications that use electrocatalysis to extract hydrogen from water.

Initial tests on two variations of the material proved that most production is coming from the thin sheets’ edges.

Researchers already knew the edges of 2D materials are where the catalytic action is, so any information that helps maximize it is valuable, says Jun Lou, a professor of materials science and nanoengineering at Rice University whose lab developed the technique with colleagues at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

(more…)

Our guest today, James Fenton, is the director of the Florida Solar Energy Center at the University of Central Florida – the nation’s largest and most active state-supported renewable energy and energy efficiency institute.

Fenton is also the current secretary of the ECS Board of Directors.

Listen to the podcast and download this episode and others for free through the iTunes Store, SoundCloud, or our RSS Feed. You can also find us on Stitcher.

(more…)

Researchers have created a way to look inside fuel cells to see the chemical processes that lead them to breakdown.

Fuel cells could someday generate electricity for nearly any device that’s battery-powered, including automobiles, laptops, and cellphones. Typically using hydrogen as fuel and air as an oxidant, fuel cells are cleaner than internal combustion engines because they produce power via electrochemical reactions. Since water is their primary product, they considerably reduce pollution.

The oxidation, or breakdown, of a fuel cell’s central electrolyte membrane can shorten their lifespan. The process leads to formation of holes in the membrane and can ultimately cause a chemical short circuit. Engineers created the new technique to examine the rate at which this oxidation occurs with hopes of finding out how to make fuel cells last longer.

Using fluorescence spectroscopy inside the fuel cell, they are able to probe the formation of the chemicals responsible for the oxidation, namely free radicals, during operation. The technique could be a game changer when it comes to understanding how the cells break down, and designing mitigation strategies that would extend the fuel cell’s lifetime.

“If you buy a device—a car, a cell phone—you want it to last as long as possible,” says Vijay Ramani, professor of environment & energy at the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis.

(more…)

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) are taking a closer look at fuel cell catalysts in hopes of finding a viable alternative to the expensive platinum and platinum-group metal catalysts currently used in fuel cell electrodes. Developments in this area could lead to more affordable next-generation polymer electrolyte fuel cells for vehicles.

The research, led by ECS fellow Piotr Zelenay, looks at the fuel cell catalysts at the atomic level, providing unique insight into the efficiency of non-precious metals for automotive and other applications.

“What makes this exploration especially important is that it enhances our understanding of exactly why these alternative catalysts are active,” Zelenay says. “We’ve been advancing the field, but without understanding the sources of activity; without the structural and functional insights, further progress was going to be very difficult.”

This from LANL:

Platinum aids in both the electrocatalytic oxidation of hydrogen fuel at the anode and electrocatalytic reduction of oxygen from air at the cathode, producing usable electricity. Finding a viable, low-cost PGM-free catalyst alternative is becoming more and more possible, but understanding exactly where and how catalysis is occurring in these new materials has been a long-standing challenge. This is true, Zelenay noted, especially in the fuel cell cathode, where a relatively slow oxygen reduction reaction, or ORR, takes place that requires significant ‘loading’ of platinum.

(more…)

GrapheneScientists have created a durable catalyst for high-performance fuel cells by attaching single ruthenium atoms to graphene.

Catalysts that drive the oxygen reduction reaction that lets fuel cells turn chemical energy into electricity are usually made of platinum, which stands up to the acidic nature of the cell’s charge-carrying electrolyte. But platinum is expensive, and scientists have searched for decades for a suitable replacement.

The ruthenium-graphene combination may fit the bill, says chemist James Tour, a professor of computer science and of materials science and nanoengineering at Rice University, whose lab developed the material. In tests, its performance easily matched that of traditional platinum-based alloys and bested iron and nitrogen-doped graphene, another contender.

“Ruthenium is often a highly active catalyst when fixed between arrays of four nitrogen atoms, yet it is one-tenth the cost of traditional platinum,” Tour says. “And since we are using single atomic sites rather than small particles, there are no buried atoms that cannot react. All the atoms are available for reaction.”

(more…)

SOFC-XVThe 15th International Symposium on Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFC-XV) is set to take place in Hollywood, FL, July 23-27, 2017.

This symposium will bring together scientists, engineers, and researchers from academia, industry, and government laboratories to share results and discuss issues related to solid oxide fuel cells and electrolyzers.

Register

SOFC got its roots in 1989 when Subhash Singhal, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Battelle Fellow, initiated the symposium. After 28 years, Singhal is taking the conference back to its birthplace, drawing scientists and engineers from around across the globe.

“We have formed a world-wide community of solid oxide fuel cell researchers,” Singhal says. “Before this symposium, people were scattered among different professional societies and different scientific disciplines. This conference has been instrumental in bringing everyone together.”

(more…)

Fuel CellResearchers from Purdue University are making headway on solving issues in electrolyzers and fuel cell development by gaining new insight into electrocatalysts.

Electrocatalysts are key in promoting the chemical reactions that happen in both fuel cells and electrolyzers. However, while activating theses chemical reactions is crucial, the electrocatalysts tend to be unstable and can corrode when used in fuel cells and electrolyzers.

ECS member Jeffrey Greeley is looking to address this issue by identifying the structure for an active, stable electrocatalyst made of nickel nanoislands deposited on platinum.

“The reactions led to very stable structures that we would not predict by just looking at the properties of nickel,” Greeley says. “It turned out to be quite a surprise.”

(more…)

HydrogenSometimes the biggest advancements are the smallest in size.

A multidisciplinary team from Sandia National Laboratories recently demonstrated that notion by using nanoparticles and a nanoconfinement system to improve the performance of hydrogen storage materials. The researchers believe that this development is a step in the right direction to improve efficiency of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles.

Currently, hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles store hydrogen as a high-pressure gas. However, the researchers argue that a solid material would be able to act like a sponge, with the ability to absorb and release hydrogen more efficiently. Using a hydrogen storage material of this nature could increase the amount of hydrogen able to be stored in a vehicle. In order to be efficient and competitive in the transportation sector, a hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle would have to be able to travel 300 miles before refueling.

“There are two critical problems with existing sponges for hydrogen storage,” says Vitalie Stavila, co-author of the study and past ECS member. “Most can’t soak up enough hydrogen for cars. Also, the sponges don’t release and absorb hydrogen fast enough, especially compared to the 5 minutes needed for fueling.”

(more…)

Fuel CellInterest in electric and hybrid vehicles continues to grow across the globe. The world economy saw EV sales go from around 315,000 in 2014 to 536,000 in 2015, and trends so far for 2016 show that the number of vehicles sold this year is on track to far exceed numbers we’ve seen in previous years.

Moving EVs forward

But in order to make these cars, there needs to be an energy storage source that is not only sustainable, but cheap to produce, with high efficiency, and can be easily mass produced. One of the leading contenders in that race has become fuel cell technology.

In recent years, new materials and better heat management processes have advanced fuel cells. Now, researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s NERSC center (including ECS Fellow Radoslav Adzic and ECS member Kotaro Sasaki) are putting their chips on polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFCs) to be at the forefront of fuel cell technology due recent finds. In a new study, the group showed that PEFCs could be made to run more efficiently and produced more cost-effectively by reducing the amount of a single key ingredient: platinum.

Laboratory curiosity

While fuel cells date back to 1839, they spent a majority of their existence as laboratory curiosities. It wasn’t until the 1950s when fuel cells finally made their way to the main stage, eventually going on to power the Gemini and Apollo space flights in the 1960s.

(more…)

Five ECS short courses will be offered at PRiME 2016 in Honolulu this October!

What are short courses? Taught by academic and industry experts in intimate learning settings, short courses offer students and professionals alike the opportunity to greatly expand their knowledge and technical expertise.

PRiME 2016 short courses will be held on Sunday, October 2, 2016 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Don’t miss the early-bird deadline of September 2, 2016! Register today!

Short Course #5: Polymer Electrolyte Fuel Cells

Hubert A. Gasteiger and Thomas J. Schmidt, Instructors 

This short course develops the fundamental thermodynamics and electrocatalytic processes critical to polymer electrolyte fuel cells (PEFCs, including Direct Methanol and Alkaline Membrane FCs). In the first part, we will discuss the relevant half-cell reactions, their thermodynamic driving forces, and their mathematical foundations in electrocatalysis theory (e.g., Butler-Volmer equations). Subsequently, this theoretical framework will be applied to catalyst characterization and the evaluation of kinetic parameters like activation energies, exchange current densities, reaction orders, etc.

(more…)

  • Page 1 of 4