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: Many tongues, one voice, one common ambition

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

Many tongues, one voice, one common ambition

12 hours ago

There is much need to develop energy efficient solutions for residential buildings in Europe. The EU-funded project, MeeFS, due to be completed by the end of 2015, is developing an innovative multifunctional and energy efficient ...

Panasonic, Tesla to build big US battery plant

13 hours ago

(AP)—American electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc. is teaming up with Japanese electronics company Panasonic Corp. to build a battery manufacturing plant in the U.S. expected to create 6,500 jobs.

Simulation models optimize water power

14 hours ago

The Columbia River basin in the Pacific Northwest offers great potential for water power; hydroelectric power stations there generate over 20 000 megawatts already. Now a simulation model will help optimize the operation ...

Charging electric cars efficiently inductive

15 hours ago

We already charge our toothbrushes and cellphones using contactless technology. Researchers have developed a particularly efficient and cost-effective method that means electric cars could soon follow suit.

User comments : 0