Powering Fuel Cells with Wastewater

The word “renewable” often triggers thoughts of solar and wind in the realm of energy technology.

Two researchers from Virginia Tech are now trying to change that perception, focusing on maximizing the amount of electricity that can be generated from the wastewater we flush down the toilet.

They’re turning poo into power.

(MORE: See what ECS scientists are doing to transform wastewater.)

“Tracing the bacteria gave us a major piece of the puzzle to start generating electricity in a sustainable way,” said Xueyang Feng, co-author of the study. “This is a step toward the growing trend to make wastewater treatment centers self-sustaining in the energy they use.”

Clean Energy from Water

For most of history, fuel cells existed only as laboratory curiosities. 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.

Since their humble beginnings, fuel cells have come a far to prove as a viable alternative to combustion. Currently, researchers at the University of Basel are studying how sunlight could split water into hydrogen and oxygen, creating a fuel cell that could produce clean energy from water.

(MORE: Read “Battery and Fuel Cell Technology.”)

Artificial photosynthesis has proven to be one of the most promising tools in producing clean, renewable resources. This process occurs when water is photo-electrochemically, with the aid of sunlight, separated into its H2 and O2 components.

Of the two reactions that occur, water oxidation typically provides researchers with the most hurdles to overcome. The new research works to develop an efficient, sustainable water oxidation catalyst.



New material could help SOFCs operate more efficiently and cheaply.
Image: Bloom Energy

Solid oxide fuel cells may be producing cleaner energy at a more efficient level soon, thanks to a development at the University of Cambridge.

A new thin-film electrolyte material, developed by a team including ECS member Sergei Kalinin, has the potential to propel portable power sources due to its ability to achieve high performance levels and very low temperatures.

Advancing fuel cells

With a huge scientific focus shift toward developing new energy technologies, fuel cells have emerged as a big contender. Transitioning from a simple laboratory curiosity in the 19th century to a main contender for powering electric vehicles, researchers have dedicated much energy to building an efficient, cost effective fuel cell.

(MORE: Read “Battery and Fuel Cell Technology“)

This from University of Cambridge:

By using thin-film electrolyte layers, micro solid oxide fuel cells offer a concentrated energy source, with potential applications in portable power sources for electronic consumer or medical devices, or those that need uninterruptable power supplies such as those used by the military or in recreational vehicles.


Technology Prospects for Future Mobility

review-paperWith the transportation sectors of industrialized countries on the rise and greenhouse gas emissions at an all-time high, many scientists and engineers are searching for the next-generation of transportation. From hybrid to electric to hydrogen, alternative energy sources for vehicles are being explored and tested throughout the scientific community. Now, many are wondering which technology will win in the race between battery- and hydrogen-powered cars.

A recent open access paper published in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society (JES) explores this topic. Authors Hubert A. Gasteiger, Jens-Peter Suchsland, and Oliver Gröger have outlined the technological barriers for next-generation vehicles in “Review—Electromobility: Batteries or Fuel Cells?” This paper comes as part of the recent JES Collection of Invited Battery Review Papers.

The majority of today’s vehicles depend on petroleum-based products in internal combustion engines to operate. The burning of these fuels results in the emission of greenhouse gasses. The majority of these transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions do not come from large modes of transportation such as aircrafts or ships—but are primarily produced by cars, trucks, and SUVs.

In the recently published review, the authors describe the possibilities of extended range electric vehicles, the challenges in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and the potential for new materials to be used in these applications.

Read this open access paper and read the rest of the JES Collection of Invited Battery Review Papers.

Fuel cells have been receiving a lot of attention in the scientific domain as one of the most promising alternative energy sources. When applying fuel cell technology to both the grid and automobiles, one issue is persistent: cost. Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory (ANNL) have been looking for a way to combat the price issues. Now, a team of researchers led by ECS member Di-Jia Liu have found a potential way to utilize fuel cells without the high cost of development and commercialization.

A New Catalyst

The team’s development revolves around the notion of using naturally abundant materials without sacrificing efficiency. Current, fuel cells work off a platinum catalyst, which is both expensive and scarce. The new catalyst eliminates the need for the precious material, all while demonstrating performance rates comparable to that of a platinum catalyst.

The scientists developed the new catalyst via the synthesis of a highly efficient, nanofibrous non-precious metal catalyst. If this technique proves to be commercially viable, it transition into automotive technology and extend the range of electric vehicles and potentially eliminate the need for charging.


Top 5 Less Recognized Renwable Energy Sources

When we think of renewable energy, our minds typically tend toward solar and wind power. However, there are other promising energy sources that commonly fly under the radar. The Guardian recently highlighted five alternative energy sources that have the potential to see great growth in upcoming years and transform the energy landscape as we know it.

Ocean Power
With ocean waters covering more than 70 percent of our plants surface, it only makes sense to harness the energy it naturally produces. Ocean current and waves could be used to drive electric generators and produce an abundant amount of consistent energy. Typically, ocean energy is broken down into four categories: deep water source cooling, tidal power, wave power, and marine current.

The catch? Salt water causes corrosion, which raises an issue when developing a device to capture this energy. The biggest roadblock engineers are currently facing is how to develop an energy harnessing device that makes ocean power commercially viable. With the right scale of development, this from of energy could be at the forefront of a renewable future.

Essentially, biomass transforms living things or the waste they produce into electricity. Currently, biomass accounts for 12 percent of the country’s renewable energy generation. While burning the fuel produces CO2, proponents of this source believe it will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions due to the growth of plants that produce the energy, which remove the CO2 from the atmosphere.


Nano Chip Gives New Insights into Fuel Cells

specA tiny chip may be the answer to the wide-spread utilization of fuel cells.

A team of researchers from UCLA have developed a nanoelectronic chip that can accurately analyze the chemical reactions that allow fuels cells and batteries to function. The new chip effectively evaluates at the nano level how nanocatalysts convert chemical reactions into electricity.

New Insights About Fuel Cells

Essentially, the chip scales down spectroscopy—doing what a large laboratory would typically do, only more effectively and with the ability to collect new data.

This from UCLA:

Being able to analyze these reactions with increased accuracy, heightened sensitivity and greater cost-effectiveness will vastly improve scientists’ understanding of nanocatalysts, which will enable the development of new environmentally friendly fuel cells that are more efficient, more durable and less expensive to produce. Eventually, those new fuel cells could be used to power vehicles that run on hydrogen, the 10th most abundant element on Earth, and give off water as exhaust.


First Hydrogen Fuel Cell Ferry

The high-speed hydrogen fuel cell ferry boat is set to hit the waters of the San Francisco Bay Area.Image: Green Car Reports

The high-speed hydrogen fuel cell ferry boat is set to hit the waters of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Image: Green Car Reports

Diesel burning vehicles in the U.S. alone emit pollutants that lead to 21,000 premature deaths each year and act as one of the largest drivers of climate change. The traditional ferry typically burns around one million liters of diesel fuel each year—producing 570 tons of carbon dioxide. In order to help combat this issue, Sandia National Laboratories and the Red and White Fleet ferry company are joining forces to create the first hydrogen fuel cell ferry boat to hit the waters of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Currently in the early stages of development, the boat is set to be named SF BREEZE—an acronym for “San Francisco Bay Renewable Energy Electric vessel with Zero Emissions.” As far as consumption goes, the researchers believe it will take about 1,000 kilograms (2,204 pounds) of hydrogen per day to power the ship.

ICYMI: Listen to Subhash Singhal, a world-leader in the study of fuel cells, talk about the future of energy and climate change.

To satisfy this demand, the construction of the world’s largest hydrogen fueling station will begin off shore and will have the ability to service both sea and land vehicles.

But this isn’t Siemens first take on zero emission ferries. Earlier this year, the lab developed the technology for the world’s first electrically-powered ferry in Norway. This ship has already hit the water successfully, causing no carbon dioxide emissions.

PS: We’re currently accepting abstracts for the 229th ECS Meeting in San Diego! Submit today!

FCLabs and manufacturers across the globe are pushing forward in an effort to develop a completely clean hydrogen-powered car. Whether it’s through the plotting of more fueling stations or new vehicle prototypes, many manufactures are hoping to bring this concept into reality soon.

However, there is still one very important aspect missing – the science and technology to produce the best and most efficient hydrogen fuel cell.

In ACS Central Science, two teams have independently reported developments in this field that may be able to get us one step closer to a practical hydrogen-powered car.

ICYMI: Listen to our podcast with Subhash C. Singhal, a world-leader in fuel cell research.

The catalysts currently used to produce the proper chemical reaction for hydrogen and oxygen to create energy is currently too expensive or just demands too much energy to be efficient. For this reason, these two teams – led by Yi Cui at Sanford University, and combining the scientific prowess of James Gerken and Shannon Stahl at the University of Wisconsin, Madison – are seeking a new material that could cause the same reaction at a lower price point and higher efficiency.


Printable Functional Materials

Potential technical applications of printable functional inks.

The videos and information in this post relate to an ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology focus issue called: Printable Functional Materials for Electronics and Energy Applications.

(Read/download the focus issue now. It’s entirely free.)

Printing technologies in an atmospheric environment offer the potential for low-cost and materials-efficient alternatives for manufacturing electronics and energy devices such as luminescent displays, thin-film transistors, sensors, thin-film photovoltaics, fuel cells, capacitors, and batteries. Significant progress has been made in the area of printable functional organic and inorganic materials including conductors, semiconductors, and dielectric and luminescent materials.

These new printable functional materials have and will continue to enable exciting advances in printed electronics and energy devices. Some examples are printed amorphous oxide semiconductors, organic conductors and semiconductors, inorganic semiconductor nanomaterials, silicon, chalcogenide semiconductors, ceramics, metals, intercalation compounds, and carbon-based materials.

A special focus issue of the ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology was created about the publication of state-of-the-art efforts that address a variety of approaches to printable functional materials and device. This focus issue, consisting of a total of 15 papers, includes both invited and contributed papers reflecting recent achievements in printable functional materials and devices.

The topics of these papers span several key ECS technical areas, including batteries, sensors, fuel cells, carbon nanostructures and devices, electronic and photonic devices, and display materials, devices, and processing. The overall collection of this focus issue covers an impressive scope from fundamental science and engineering of printing process, ink chemistry and ink conversion processes, printed devices, and characterizations to the future outlook for printable functional materials and devices.

The video below demonstrates Printed Metal Oxide Thin-Film Transistors by J. Gorecki, K. Eyerly, C.-H. Choi, and C.-H. Chang, School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering, Oregon State University.

Step-by-step explanation of the video:


  • Page 3 of 5