Imaging Atoms and Revolutionizing Laptop Computers

Jun 08, 2010
Aberration corrected STEM image of Pd/ZnO treated in flowing H2 at 500°C. The bright spots represent single atoms of Pd dispersed on the ZnO surface (image obtained by L. F. Allard at ORNL)

(PhysOrg.com) -- Outlet vampires (n). Definition: People with laptop computers who stare hungrily at the walls of airports, train stations, and bus depots, searching for an electrical outlet to power their computer.

Professor Abhaya Datye, Director of the University of New Mexico's Center for Micro-Engineered Materials, is investigating a way to free "outlet vampires" from their troubles.

The idea is simple. Design a that lasts 20 hours and runs on methanol or wood-grain alcohol. In this battery, the methanol is transformed into hydrogen, which is then fed into a fuel cell to create electricity. When the battery is spent, you'd simply plug in a fresh methanol cartridge.

But, don't go rushing to the store just yet. This idea, Datye noted at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Frontiers in Catalysis Science and Engineering Seminar Series, relies on researchers finding an affordable catalyst that can quickly and efficiently turn methanol into hydrogen.

Answering questions

Datye is leading research into a catalyst that might do the trick: a combination of and zinc. This bimetallic catalyst is created from affordable metals and effectively transforms methanol. However, for the conversion process to work on a scale sufficient for the needs of future long-life batteries, molecular-level interactions must be understood. For example, does the size and shape of the catalyst matter? Is there a better size to make it work more efficiently? Datye and his colleagues are working to answer these and numerous other questions.

Seeing atoms

Part of their research involves imaging or "seeing" the interactions on the surface of the catalyst using high-powered microscopes and other instruments. To date, they've found that isolated palladium migrate and end up isolated on top of columns of zinc within the zinc oxide structure. The team also found that these structures co-exist with others where zinc and palladium are together in bimetallic particles. The question that remains to be answered is which of these structures does the job better. The answer may provide clues to making more efficient catalysts in the future.

In addition, the team is working to study how the shape of zinc oxide crystals affects reaction rates. "By choosing the right synthesis conditions, you can get surfaces you want," said Datye. "This includes making thin plates or sheets of ."

This research was done, in part, using a specialized transmission electron microscope. This microscope was corrected for aberrations in its electron optical components, allowing scientists to take pictures of catalysts and other materials at 0.7 Angstroms resolution. The is available at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Explore further: New insights on carbonic acid in water

Related Stories

Casio Develops World's Smallest Fuel Cell for Laptop PCs

May 11, 2004

Casio Computer Co. has developed the world's smallest fuel cell for use in laptop personal computers, and aims to market it in 2007. The polymer electrolyte fuel cell, which is being developed for use in automobiles ...

Recommended for you

World's fastest manufacture of battery electrodes

2 hours ago

New world record: Scientists at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) increased the manufacturing speed of electrode foils coated batch-wise by a factor of three – to 100 meters per minute. This was ...

Waste, an alternative source of energy to petroleum

2 hours ago

The group led by Martín Olazar, researcher in the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country's Department of Chemical Engineering, is studying the development of sustainable refineries where it is possible ...

Researchers developing new thermal interface materials

3 hours ago

In the microelectronics world, the military and private sectors alike need solutions to technologic challenges. Dr. Mustafa Akbulut, assistant professor of chemical engineering, and two students lead a project ...

New insights on carbonic acid in water

17 hours ago

Though it garners few public headlines, carbonic acid, the hydrated form of carbon dioxide, is critical to both the health of the atmosphere and the human body. However, because it exists for only a fraction ...

User comments : 7

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

PinkElephant
5 / 5 (1) Jun 08, 2010
a combination of palladium and zinc. This bimetallic catalyst is created from affordable metals
Huh? Since when is Palladium "affordable"?

http://palladiump...nce.html

It's "only" about 1/3 the current and escalating price of gold, and that's only because it ISN'T YET being used all over the world as a catalyst in widespread direct methanol fuel cells...
But, don't go rushing to the store just yet.
And why not?

http://www.mtimic...lls.com/
winthrom
not rated yet Jun 09, 2010
How about methanol fuel cells? They exist already.
Kahlim
not rated yet Jun 09, 2010
As an external add-on to extend battery life this sounds like a good idea, but as a replacement for internal batteries (which seems to be the suggestion) it's horrible, run out of power at midnight while on your laptop? Forget about just plugging it into a wall you get to drive to a store to buy another cartridge! (Or keep little tanks of methanol in your house, fantastic) Also, no-ones going to let you on an aircraft with this, so it'd better be cheap enough to throw away or rentable at airports (but then what's the point just install more power outlets).

Remember in mobile devices space is at a premium, so you're going to get fuel cells or batteries, not both, frankly I don't want to stop what I'm doing to go find somewhere that sells these cartriges when there's power outlets everywhere and nobody cares if you use them.

Caveat* wouldn't be so bad if they ran for a week straight, otherwise all we have is something a bit better in one area and massively inconvienient in another.
bg1
not rated yet Jun 09, 2010
What about CO poisoning?
PinkElephant
not rated yet Jun 09, 2010
@Kahlim,
Also, no-ones going to let you on an aircraft with this
You're wrong there. FAA has approved small methanol fuel cell power packs for carry-on items:

http://loveoftech...ircraft/

I don't want to stop what I'm doing to go find somewhere that sells these cartriges when there's power outlets everywhere
Nothing would prevent a device from offering both a fuel cell AND a power plug (but no battery.)
Caveat* wouldn't be so bad if they ran for a week straight, otherwise all we have is something a bit better in one area and massively inconvienient in another.
Convenience is in the eye of the beholder. What's more convenient: waiting 3 hours for a battery to charge up, or instantly plugging in a fresh fuel cartridge?
otto1923
not rated yet Jun 09, 2010
Convenience is in the eye of the beholder. What's more convenient: waiting 3 hours for a battery to charge up, or instantly plugging in a fresh fuel cartridge?
Or a fresh polymer battery, disposable or recyclable perhaps, and cheap- no muss, no fuss, no gas-

Professor Abhaya Datye ought to read physsorg more:
http://www.physor...970.html
MikeLisanke
not rated yet Jul 01, 2010
Great, now our laptops should run on fossil fuels?