Cheaper Fuel Cells

By Staff June 1, 2006

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed a new material for proton-exchange membranes in PEM fuel cells . PEMs are used in fuel cells to allow protons to pass through from one electrode to the other. At the same time, they block electrons, which are then forced to travel an external circuit between electrodes.

Researchers claim that their new material conducts protons nearly three times as well as currently used material, greatly increasing power density. This would mean that a much smaller fuel cell can be deployed.

The material begins as a liquid that can be poured over a patterned mold, unlike the fluorinated polymer currently being used for this purpose. The enhanced conductivity of the new material comes in part from having a higher acid content than currently used materials.

While the material has been tested using hydrogen as a fuel, UNC researchers are now testing the material with methanol—a fuel source that could be important for fuel cells in portable electronics and maybe vehicles.