Post-doctoral researcher makes strides in fuel cell technology

Dec 01, 2011 By Gabriella Chiera
Pictured are (from left) Suresh Advani, Liang Wang and Ajay Prasad. Credit: Evan Krape

Liang Wang, a post-doctoral researcher in the University of Delaware's Center for Fuel Cell Research in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, is developing new materials and structures that can improve the quality of fuel cell technology by increasing the durability of the fuel cell membrane.

Like batteries, fuel cells are electrochemical energy conversion devices that produce electricity. By converting and oxygen into water, they can be a valuable for vehicles, buildings and devices like laptops and cell phones.

Wang’s research is aimed at developing and structures for proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells, which are considered the best type of fuel cell for vehicles, and are predicted to eventually replace gasoline and diesel internal combustion engines.

PEM fuel cells use a solid polymer membrane, or thin plastic film, that is permeable to protons when saturated with water. However, water present in the fuel cell could repeatedly freeze and melt while operating in cold climates, forcing the cell to expand and contract, and causing stress and deterioration of the membrane. 

Wang’s research focuses on improving fuel durability through the development of robust materials that can withstand stress due to temperature change, which is a major challenge for the commercial deployment of automotive fuel cells.

He works with graduate and undergraduate students in the Fuel Cell Research Laboratory to create novel materials and structures for PEM fuel cells targeted at improving durability, reducing cost and increasing fuel cell performance.

They have successfully developed membranes with improved durability based on polymer and carbon nanotube composite materials that exhibit high stress tolerance during freeze-thaw cycling.

Wang is advised by Suresh G. Advani, George W. Laird Professor of Mechanical Engineering and associate director of the Center for Composite Materials, and Ajay K. Prasad, professor of and director of the Center for Fuel Cell Research.

His work, which is part of the Fuel Cell Bus Program and which is supported by the Federal Transit Administration, was recently recognized at the 2011 International Seminar and Exposition. Wang’s poster entitled “Freeze-Thaw Durability Study of MWCNTs Nafion Reinforced Membranes,” earned first place out of over 120 poster submissions. 

“Dr. Wang is full of clever ideas and pursues them with vigor,” said Prasad. “He has been with the University of Delaware for just about one year, yet has already initiated several innovative projects that seek to improve .”

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1 / 5 (1) Dec 01, 2011
Does this press release have a point?
1 / 5 (1) Dec 01, 2011
By converting hydrogen and oxygen into water, they can be a valuable power source for vehicles, buildings and devices like laptops and cell phones.
Why we should spend a penny into development of such technology, when the cold fusion changes the rules of game already? We don't need the hydrogen fuel economy at all if we can fuse hydrogen with nickel metal in 100.000x more effective way. It's literally the burning of dollar bills.
5 / 5 (2) Dec 01, 2011
Why we should spend a penny into development of such technology, when the cold fusion changes the rules of game already?

Why indeed? The only explanation must be that the entire world is stupid and cannot see what you (choose) to see.
not rated yet Jan 03, 2012
You smart fellers, Deesky, rawa1, wouldn't happen to know that even fusion energy needs to be stored and transported? Gaseous and liquid hydrogen and hydrocarbons will long be in the game as the energy storage media and, hence, fuels. Cars offer the freedom they do because of the portability of fuels in their tanks and reasonable size of their engines. Fuel cells will replace combustion engines, no matter where the fuel for them will be coming from.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 03, 2012
wouldn't happen to know that even fusion energy needs to be stored and transported?
Cold fusion doesn't require to be stored and transported. It could be produced in unlimited quantities at any time, because it can be controlled easily with external pressure of hydrogen. So that the only energy storage part of future electromobiles will be capacitor, providing the energy for next few minutes. In particular, whole the hydrogen technology will become obsolete. because the hydrogen has no advantage with respect to its low energy density. I can even imagine, the cold fusion will be used for production of artificial hydrocarbons (gasoline produced from water and carbon dioxide from air), which could be used in legacy automobiles from compatibility reasons.