According to [Charles Q. Choi], a new study indicates that grooves in the hydrogen fuel cells used to power vehicles can improve their performance by up to 50%. Fuel cells are like batteries because they use chemical reactions to create electricity. Where they are different is that a battery reacts a certain amount of material, and then it is done unless you recharge it somehow. A fuel cell will use as much fuel as you give it. That allows it to continue creating electricity until the fuel runs out.
Common hydrogen fuel cells use a proton exchange membrane — a polymer membrane that conducts protons to separate the fuel and the oxidizer. You can think of it as an electrolyte. Common fuel cells use an electrode design that hasn’t changed in decades. The new research has catalyst ridges separated by empty grooves. This enhances oxygen flow and proton transport.
Conventional electrodes use an ion-conducting polymer and a platinum catalyst. Adding more polymer improves proton transport but inhibits oxygen flow. The grooved design allows for dense polymer on the ridges but allows oxygen to flow in the grooves. In technical terms, the proton transport resistance goes down, and there is little change in the oxygen transport resistance.
The grooves are between one and two nanometers wide, so don’t pull out your CNC mill. The researchers admit they had the idea for this some time ago, but it has taken several years to figure out how to fabricate the special electrodes.
Multirotor drones have become a regular part of daily life, serving as everything from camera platforms to inspection tools and weapons of war. The vast majority run on lithium rechargeable batteries, with corresponding limits on flight time. A company called Hylium hopes to change all that with a hydrogen-powered drone that can fly for up to five hours.
The drone uses a hydrogen fuel cell to provide electricity to run the drone’s motors and other electronic systems. Thanks to the energy density advantage of hydrogen versus lithium batteries, the flight time can be greatly extended compared to conventional battery-only drones. Details are scant, but the company has gone to some lengths to build out the product beyond a simple tech demonstrator, too. Hylium touts useful features like the short five-minute refueling time. The drone also reportedly features a night vision camera and the capability to transmit video over distances up to 10 kilometers, though some of the video of these features appears to be stock footage.
Hylium claims the liquid hydrogen canister used for the drone is drop-safe in the event of a problem. Notably, the video suggests the company tested this by dropping the canister concerningly close to an active motorway, but from what we see, nothing went awry.
A drone that can fly for five hours would be particularly useful for autonomous surveillance and inspection roles. The additional loiter time would be advantageous in these roles. We’ve seen other aero experimenters exploring the use of hydrogen fuel cells, too.
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In the automotive world, batteries are quickly becoming the energy source of the future. For heavier-duty tasks, though, they simply don’t cut the mustard. Their energy density, being a small fraction of that of liquid fuels, just can’t get the job done. In areas like these, hydrogen holds some promise as a cleaner fuel of the future.
Universal Hydrogen hopes that hydrogen will do for aviation what batteries can’t. The company has been developing flight-ready fuel cells for this exact purpose, and has begun test flights towards that very goal.
Continue reading “Largest Ever Hydrogen Fuel Cell Plane Takes Flight”
Electric cars are very much en vogue right now, as the world tries to clean up on emissions and transition to a more sustainable future. However, these vehicles require huge batteries as it is. For heavier-duty applications like trucks and trains, batteries simply won’t cut the mustard.
Normally, the solution for electrifying railways is to simply string up some wires and call it a day. China is trying an alternative solution, though, in the form of a hydrogen-powered train full of supercapacitors.
Continue reading “China’s New 100 MPH Train Runs On Hydrogen And Supercaps”
Turn the clock back a couple of decades, and the only time the average person would have given much thought to batteries was when the power would go out, and they suddenly needed to juice up their flashlight or portable radio. But today, high-capacity batteries have become part and parcel to our increasingly digital lifestyle. In fact, there’s an excellent chance the device your reading this on is currently running on battery power, or at least, is capable of it.
So let’s get to know batteries better. What’s the chemical process that allows them to work? For that matter, what even is a battery in the first place?
It’s these questions, and more, that made up this week’s Battery Engineering Hack Chat with Dave Sopchak. Our last Hack Chat of 2022 ended up being one of the longest in recent memory, with the conversation starting over an hour before the scheduled kickoff and running another half hour beyond when emcee Dan Maloney officially made his closing remarks. Not bad for a topic that so often gets taken for granted.
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Hydrogen has long been touted as a potential fuel of the future. While it’s failed to catch on in cars as batteries have taken a strong lead, it still holds great promise for larger vehicles like trucks.
Hyundai have been working diligently in this space over the last few years, with its Xcient line of fuel-cell powered trucks. It’s set to dominate the world of hydrogen trucking in the US as it brings a fleet of vehicles to California next year.
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A fuel cell is almost like a battery that has replenishable fuel. Instead of charging a battery with an electric current, you recharge a fuel cell with something like hydrogen or you simply consume it from a tank much as an internal combustion engine consumes gasoline. However, fuel cells usually use a catalyst — it isn’t consumed in the reaction, but it is necessary and many fuel cells use platinum as a catalyst which is expensive. But what if you could use less catalyst and get a better result? That’s what researchers in Canada and the US are claiming in a recent paper. The key isn’t how much catalyst they are using, but rather the shape of the catalyst.
Of course, everyone wants to use less of the expensive catalyst but polymer electrolyte fuel cells have had a particular problem where reducing the amount of catalyst used causes a disproportionate drop in cell performance. This new approach uses spherical catalyst support that improves the distribution and utilization of the catalyst.
Continue reading “Fuel Cell Catalyst: Less Is More”