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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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Nissan is taking a big step toward eco-friendly transportation with the development of their new solid oxide fuel cell vehicle.

The science behind the vehicle, which the car company has branded e-Bio Fuel-Cell, uses bio-ethanol fuel to generate electricity through SOFC technology. Nissan states that sugarcane, corn, and soy can all be used as means of fuel – resulting in a carbon neutral cycle when the car hits the road.

Nissan claims a higher driving range and lower charge time than conventional electric vehicles, with a cruising range of more than 600 km (373 miles).

The company expects the vehicle to be ready for commercial purchase as early as 2020.

Fuel cells have existed (at least in theory) since the early 1800s, but have spent much of their existence as laboratory curiosities. It wasn’t until the mid-1900s that fuel cells finally got their time in the spotlight with the first major application in the Gemini and Apollo space flights.

While fuel cells have moved forward in the competitive field of energy storage, there are still many barriers that researchers are attempting to overcome. Especially today, with society making a conscious effort to move toward more sustainable types of power, much emphasis has been put on solid oxide fuel cells and moving them from the lab to the market.

(MORE: Get additional information on the evolution of fuel cell technology.)

A team of researchers from Washington State University believes they may have taken a crucial step in doing just that.

Moving fuel cells forward

The team recently published a paper detailing what they believe to be a key step in SOFC improvement and eventually implementation in the marketplace. These small improvements could mean big changes.
SOFCs, unlike other types of fuel cells, do not require the use of expensive materials (i.e. platinum) to develop.

“Solid oxide fuel cells are very fuel flexible in contrast to other kinds of fuel cells, like alkaline fuel cells,” Subhash Singhal, Battelle Fellow Emeritus at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and esteemed fuel cell expert, told ECS in a previous interview. “Solid oxide fuel cells can use a variety of fuel: natural gas, coal gas, and even liquid fuels like diesel and gasoline.”

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New research from the University of Washington is opening another avenue in the quest for better batteries and fuel cells. But this research is not a breakthrough in efficiency or longevity, rather a tool to more closely analyze how batteries work.

While we’ve come a long way from the voltaic pile of the 1800s, there is still much work to be done in the field of energy storage to meet modern day needs. In a society that is looking for ways to power electric vehicles and implement large scale grid energy storage for renewables, batteries and fuel cells have never been more important.

A research team from the University of Washington – including ECS members Stuart B. Adler and Timothy C. Geary – believes that these improvements will likely have to happen at the nanoscale. But in order to improve batteries and fuel cells at that microscopic level, we must first understand and see how they function.

[MORE: Read the full journal article.]

The newly developed probe offers a window for researchers to understand how batteries and fuel cells really work.

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Researchers from the University of Connecticut are pushing toward a hydrogen economy with the development of a new catalyst for cheaper, light-weight hydrogen fuel cells.

The catalyst — made of graphene nanotubes infused with sulfur — could potentially work to make hydrogen capture more commercially viable.

This development comes during a time where many people are looking to hydrogen in the search for a new, sustainable energy source. While hydrogen may be abundant, it often requires a costly and energy-consuming process to produce. However, if scientists could find an affordable and efficient way to capture hydrogen, it may begin to shift society away from the fossil fuel-driven economy toward a hydrogen economy.

The material developed by the University of Connecticut professors currently shows results that are competitive with some of the top materials traditionally used in these processes, but at a fraction of the cost.

The secret lies in the non-metal catalyst that has many of the same electrochemical properties as rare earth materials.

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As far back as 1839, the English scientist William Grove had the idea that the reactants of a battery could be gases fed into it from external tanks. For most of their history, fuel cells existed only as laboratory curiosities. But fuel cells have gained much more attention in recent years, with many considering these power sources for applications in vehicles and alternative grid technology.

New research from Harvard University shows just how promising fuel cell technology could be. According to the study, the researchers were able to develop more efficient fuel cells that get more robust as they age instead of degrading.

“The elegance of this process is that it happens naturally when exposed to the electrons in fuel,” says Shriram Ramananthan, lead author of the study and past ECS member. “This technique can be applied to other electrochemical devices to make it more robust. It’s like chess—before we could only play with pawns and bishops, tools that could move in limited directions. Now, we’re playing with the queen.”

After Toyota’s 2015 release of the first mass-market fuel cell car, the Japanese automaker is gearing up to release the second generation of its fuel cell vehicle in 2019.

The initial version of the Mirai, which was heralded by Toyota as the ultimate “green car,” could travel up to 300 miles on a single tank of hydrogen and refuel in less than five minutes. The starting price for the vehicle is currently $57,460.

Toyota’s new version of the Mirai promises to be more affordable than its predecessor, potentially making the clean energy vehicle well-received among consumers.

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