Nanocrystals Key to Better Fuel Cells

July 9, 2007

A new way to make cubic zirconia with very small crystal sizes could be key to making hydrogen fuel cells more reliable and cost-effective.

The invention by a team led by Zuhair Munir, distinguished professor of chemical engineering and materials science at UC Davis, was recently included in Nanotech Briefs magazine's Nano50 awards for 2007. The awards recognize technologies, products and people most likely to impact the state of the art in nanotechnology.

Fuel cells combine hydrogen fuel and oxygen from the air to release energy, leaving only water as a waste product. Fuel cells could be an alternative power source for vehicles and other uses, but there are significant challenges to their widespread use. Current fuel cells run at temperatures of 1,500 to 1,800 degrees F (800 to 1,000 degrees C). Just reaching working temperature requires energy, and the heat quickly wears out metal, plastic and ceramic components. Prevailing fuel-cell designs also require an expensive platinum catalyst.

The new technology could allow fuel cells to run at much lower temperatures, 122 to 212 degrees F (50 to 100 degrees C).

Munir, Umberto Anselmi-Tamburini and Sangtae Kim at UC Davis invented a method to make oxides such as cubic zirconia (zirconium oxide) with extremely small grain sizes, on the order of 15 nanometers. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, or the size of a few atoms. At that scale, the crystals conduct electricity very well, through the movement of protons. The material could be used in fuel cells that are based on chemical oxides.

Munir was also recipient of the 2007 UC Davis Prize for Undergraduate Teaching and Scholarly Achievement. The prize includes a cash award of $35,000, thought to be the largest of its kind in the nation.

A patent application has been filed for the technology. A paper describing the technique was published in the journal Applied Physics Letters last year. The Nano50 awards will be presented during the National Nano Engineering Conference in Boston, Nov. 14 and 15, 2007.

Source: University of California - Davis

Explore further: A new symmetry underlies the search for new materials

Related Stories

A new symmetry underlies the search for new materials

November 17, 2015

A new symmetry operation developed by Penn State researchers has the potential to speed up the search for new advanced materials that range from tougher steels to new types of electronic, magnetic, and thermal materials. ...

Recommended for you

Mathematicians identify limits to heat flow at the nanoscale

November 24, 2015

How much heat can two bodies exchange without touching? For over a century, scientists have been able to answer this question for virtually any pair of objects in the macroscopic world, from the rate at which a campfire can ...

New sensor sends electronic signal when estrogen is detected

November 24, 2015

Estrogen is a tiny molecule, but it can have big effects on humans and other animals. Estrogen is one of the main hormones that regulates the female reproductive system - it can be monitored to track human fertility and is ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.