New Fuel Cell Keeps Going After the Hydrogen Runs OutNews Flash Friday, June 29th, 2012
(Eurekalert) Imagine a kerosene lamp that continued to shine after the fuel was spent, or an electric stove that could remain hot during a power outage.
Materials scientists at Harvard have demonstrated an equivalent feat in clean energy generation with a solid-oxide fuel cell (SOFC) that converts hydrogen into electricity but can also store electrochemical energy like a battery. This fuel cell can continue to produce power for a short time after its fuel has run out.
“This thin-film SOFC takes advantage of recent advances in low-temperature operation to incorporate a new and more versatile material,” explains principal investigator Shriram Ramanathan, Associate Professor of Materials Science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). “Vanadium oxide (VOx) at the anode behaves as a multifunctional material, allowing the fuel cell to both generate and store energy.”
The finding, which appears online in the journal Nano Letters, will be most important for small-scale, portable energy applications, where a very compact and lightweight power supply is essential and the fuel supply may be interrupted.
“Unmanned aerial vehicles, for instance, would really benefit from this,” says lead author Quentin Van Overmeere, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS. “When it’s impossible to refuel in the field, an extra boost of stored energy could extend the device’s lifespan significantly.”
Ramanathan, Van Overmeere, and their coauthor Kian Kerman (a graduate student at SEAS) typically work on thin-film SOFCs that use platinum for the electrodes (the two “poles” known as the anode and the cathode). But when a platinum-anode SOFC runs out of fuel, it can continue to generate power for only about 15 seconds before the electrochemical reaction peters out.