Environmentally safe fuel cells may emerge from new research

May 03, 2010
MIT researchers are exploring a new technology funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the National Science Foundation, which they call a thermopower wave, that may convert chemical energy to fuel cells for micro‑machines, sensors and emergency communication beacons. Credit: Christine Daniloff

MIT researchers are exploring a new technology funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the National Science Foundation, which they call a thermopower wave, that may convert chemical energy to fuel cells for micro-machines, sensors and emergency communication beacons.

The technology is already generating attention because it is 100% non-toxic, saves energy and can also create a significant amount of power in tiny batteries.

"We envision these thermopower wave devices enabling a new generation of energy sources by providing more power -- as much as ten times -- than smaller commercial batteries," said Dr. Michael Strano, MIT associate professor of chemical engineering.

The key components of these devices are tiny, molecular wires called carbon nanotubes, or CNTs, which when coated with fuel can conduct heat and create an energy wave in the process.

Researchers Wonjoon Choi, Joel T. Abrahamson, Drs. Strano, Nitish Nair, Jae-Hee Han, Changsik Song and Seunghyun Hong, Prof. Seunghyun Baik believe the waves may form the basis of new types of fuel cells that convert condensed liquid fuel into electrical energy in a continuous manner.

A major challenge that the researchers faced was activating the devices without using too much . As a result, they explored different methods, including lasers, electrical sparks and direct heating from a resistor before they discovered the thermopower wave.

As they refine their mathematical decription of the waves, the scientists are looking forward to exploring ways to develop thermopower wave devices that can use transportation fuels such as ethanol or formic acid.

"Another important step for the researchers is to develop refueling systems that can cover the CNTs with more fuel so that the devices can be used more than once," Strano said. "This will greatly expand their potential applications."

Explore further: A platform to help consumers achieve sustainable energy consumption

Provided by Air Force Office of Scientific Research

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A traveling-wave engine to power deep space travel

Sep 17, 2004

A University of California scientist working at Los Alamos National Laboratory and researchers from Northrop Grumman Space Technology have developed a novel method for generating electrical power for deep-space travel us ...

Energy from ceramics

Aug 17, 2006

Micro fuel cells are already being acclaimed as an alternative to batteries. However, producing them from hundreds of tiny separate parts is complex and expensive. An alternative is now available: ceramic fuel ...

Recommended for you

Image: Testing electric propulsion

Aug 20, 2014

On Aug. 19, National Aviation Day, a lot of people are reflecting on how far aviation has come in the last century. Could this be the future – a plane with many electric motors that can hover like a helicopter ...

Where's the real value in Tesla's patent pledge?

Aug 20, 2014

With the much-anticipated arrival next month of electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla's Model S to Australian shores, it's a good time to revisit Tesla's pledge to freely share patents. ...

New type of solar concentrator doesn't block the view

Aug 19, 2014

(Phys.org) —A team of researchers at Michigan State University has developed a new type of solar concentrator that when placed over a window creates solar energy while allowing people to actually see through ...

User comments : 0