Putting a fuel cell 'in your pocket'

Apr 15, 2011 by Pete Wilton
The core-shell particle (palladium atoms on a silver nanoparticle).

(PhysOrg.com) -- Technology using catalysts which make hydrogen from formic acid could eventually replace lithium batteries and power a host of mobile devices.

Edman Tsang of Oxford University’s Department of Chemistry and colleagues are developing new catalysts which can produce at room temperature without the need for solvents or additives.

Their initial results, reported in a recent paper in Nature Nanotechnology, are promising and suggest that a hydrogen in your pocket might not be that far away.

The new approach involves placing a single atomic layer of palladium atoms onto silver nanoparticles. ‘The structural and electronic effects from the underlying silver greatly enhance the catalytic properties of palladium, giving impressive activity for the conversion of formic acid to hydrogen and carbon dioxide at room temperature,’ Edman told us.

He explains that the storage and handling of organic liquids, such as , is much easier and safer than storing hydrogen. The catalysts would enable the production of hydrogen from liquid fuel stored in a disposable or recycled cartridge, creating miniature fuel cells to power everything from mobile phones to laptops.

Another advantage of the new technology is that the gas stream generated from the reaction is mainly composed of hydrogen and carbon dioxide but virtually free from catalyst-poisoning carbon monoxide; removing the need for clean-up processes and extending the life of the fuel cells.

The chemists have worked closely with George Smith, Paul Bagot and co-workers at Oxford University’s Department of Materials to characterise the catalysts using atom probe tomography. The underlying technology is the subject of a recent Isis Innovation patent application.

‘There are lots of hurdles before you can get a real device, but we are looking at the possibility of using this new technology to replace battery technology with an alternative which has a longer lifespan and has less impact on the environment,’ explains Edman.

Explore further: Tiny wires could provide a big energy boost

More information: www.nature.com/nnano/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nnano.2011.42.html

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User comments : 13

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5 / 5 (1) Apr 15, 2011
If Mae West were alive today;
"Is that a fuel cell in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?"
5 / 5 (1) Apr 15, 2011
Right, but isn't formic acid kinda dangerous anyways if you have to have it in high concentrations? Liver and kidney damage, allergic reactions and blindness etc.

After all, it has only 4.3% of its weight in hydrogen. If you dilute it to levels where it's merely an "irritant", you still have to carry around a kilogram of liquid for the same amount of power that you'd get out of a kilogram of laptop batteries today.
2 / 5 (2) Apr 15, 2011
Like current batteries are not bad for your health?
not rated yet Apr 15, 2011
education, not just for the good of the community but owned and operated by huge conglomerate corporations. Of course they are getting a patent, no need for us to have education institutions that discover things for the public domain.
not rated yet Apr 15, 2011
My nose starts bleeding when i come to the "paladium catalyst". No wonder the Chinese are hoarding rare earths. Their researchers must be going full steam on probable imminent major discoveries.
not rated yet Apr 16, 2011
My nose starts bleeding when i come to the "paladium catalyst". No wonder the Chinese are hoarding rare earths. Their researchers must be going full steam on probable imminent major discoveries.

Palladium is a platinum group metal, not a rare earth. PGMs are commonly used in catalysts (of huge economic importance) and tend to be much, much more expensive than rare earths (which despite the name aren't all that rare). Improving catalysts is just about the most potentially profitable area of research there is, with payoffs in production of plastics, drugs, specialty chemicals as well as energy.
5 / 5 (1) Apr 16, 2011
If Mae West were alive today;
"Is that a fuel cell in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?"

...I came here just to post this.
not rated yet Apr 16, 2011
Portable fuel sources will be part of the human future,now weather we decide on "the electric automobile or the one that burns that cheap slug out back in the pond". Is entirely up to us.
not rated yet Apr 16, 2011
Formic acid?
An ant powered fuel cell now!
Yeah right...
not rated yet Apr 17, 2011
Like current batteries are not bad for your health?

But they're sealed units. You don't have to put in new chemicals, so you don't have the risk of handling them.
not rated yet Apr 18, 2011
Like current batteries are not bad for your health?

The batteries or the current?
not rated yet May 02, 2011
you know i think this could be kinda dangerous cuz isnt acid really hurtful or something? y dont u find a way to not use acid?
not rated yet May 13, 2011
Doesn't this still release co2 when the formic acid is converted to hydrogen? Whats the point of clean energy if its not clean?

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