JPL-developed clean energy technology moves forward

May 27, 2011 By Priscilla Vega
A team of scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory originally developed this 300-watt engineering prototype of a Direct Methanol Fuel Cell system for defense applications. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A team of scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in partnership with the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, developed a Direct Methanol Fuel Cell technology for future Department of Defense and commercial applications. Recently, USC and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, which manages JPL for NASA, awarded a license to SFC Energy, Inc., the U.S. affiliate of SFC Energy AG. The non-exclusive license for the technology will facilitate the expansion of the company's methanol fuel cell products into the U.S. market.

This novel uses liquid methanol as a fuel to produce electrical energy, and does not require any fuel processing. Pure water and carbon dioxide are the only byproducts of the , and no pollutants are emitted. Direct offer several advantages over other current fuel cell systems, especially with regard to simplicity of design and higher . Current systems rely on , a substance that is more difficult to transport and store.

"JPL invented the Direct Methanol Fuel Cell concept and also made significant contributions to all the facets of the . These contributions include: development of advanced catalyst materials, high-performance fuel cell membrane electrode assemblies, compact fuel cell stacks, and system designs," said JPL Power Technology Program Manager Rao Surampudi. He explained that USC worked with JPL in the development and advancement of this technology for defense and commercial applications.

Over the years, those applications have expanded from the original defense applications to include such uses as battery chargers for consumer electronics, electric vehicles, stand-alone power systems, and uninterrupted/emergency power supplies.

"We are looking forward to working closely with the fuel cell industry to further develop this technology to meet future market needs," said Erik Brandon, current Electrochemical Technologies group supervisor at JPL.

From 1989 to 1998, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funded JPL and USC to develop direct methanol fuel cells for future defense applications. Inventors on the JPL team include Surampudi, Sri. R. Narayanan, Harvey Frank, Thomas Valdez, Andrew Kindler, Eugene Vamos and Gerald Halpert. The USC inventor team includes G.K. Surya Prakash, Marshall Smart and Nobel Laureate George Olah.

"This fuel cell may well become the power source of choice for energy-efficient, non-polluting military and consumer applications," said Gerald Halpert, former Electrochemical Technologies group supervisor at JPL.

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that_guy
not rated yet May 27, 2011
Well, you definitely couldn't power a car with this. you would need 300 of them for a 100 hp car.

I never realized how much power a car needs to consume. The leaf would need around 240 of these.

but for a campsite, or even a 5 horsepower riding mower, these could be very practical.
bg1
not rated yet May 27, 2011
How well does the catalyst handle CO? CO poisons any transition metal catalyst.

The link at the bottom is to a web page from 1997.
unknownorgin
not rated yet May 28, 2011
NASA did not get the memo about carbon dioxide killing the planet by some unknown yet to be discovered process. Just guessing but I think the carbon will be oxidized to CO and then to CO2 and so the feul cell can use air instead of pure oxygen. The prototype appears to have a radiator on it to get rid of excess heat.