Hydrogen-powered lawnmowers?

January 23, 2007
Hydrogen-powered lawnmowers?
Princeton student Claire Woo, a recipient of the NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates award, at work in the laboratory of Jay Benziger. Credit: Princeton University

In a breakthrough that could make fuel cells practical for such small machines as lawnmowers and chainsaws, researchers have developed a new mechanism to efficiently control hydrogen fuel cell power.

Many standard fuel cell designs use electronics to control power output, but such designs require complex systems to manage humidity and fuel recovery and recycling systems to achieve acceptable efficiency.

The new process controls the hydrogen feed to match the required power output, just as one controls the feed of gasoline into an internal combustion engine. The system functions as a closed system that uses the waste water to regulate the size of the reaction chamber, the site where the gasses combine to form water, heat and electricity.

National Science Foundation (NSF) awardee Jay Benziger of Princeton University developed the new technique with his student Claire Woo, a recipient of an NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates award and now a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Berkeley. Woo and Benziger published their findings in the February 2007 Chemical Engineering Science, now available online.

The researchers believe the first applications for their technology will be in smaller engines. Fuel cells are currently inefficient on such scales due to the need for fuel recycling and excess hydrogen in standard designs. The researchers' new design is closed, so 100 percent of the fuel is used and there is no need for a costly fuel recycling system.

"The system is ideal for small internal combustion engines that lack emissions controls and are highly polluting," said Benziger. "There is also no need for an extensive hydrogen distribution system for these small motors; the hydrogen could be supplied in returnable tanks such as the propane tanks used for gas grills."

Benziger's next goal is to connect several of the new fuel cells together to increase power, a system that could potentially compete with cells now being tested in the automotive industry.

Source: National Science Foundation

Explore further: Artificial photosynthesis steps into the light

Related Stories

Artificial photosynthesis steps into the light

March 23, 2017

Rice University scientists have created an efficient, simple-to-manufacture oxygen-evolution catalyst that pairs well with semiconductors for solar water splitting, the conversion of solar energy to chemical energy in the ...

Synthetic biology to help colonize Mars

March 6, 2017

Shannon Dangle finished her PhD ready to take on a new challenge and set her sights on research to help make Mars colonization possible. But she isn't pursuing research on rocket fuels or space suits. She's using synthetic ...

Recommended for you

Researchers control soft robots using magnetic fields

March 29, 2017

A team of engineering researchers has made a fundamental advance in controlling so-called soft robots, using magnetic fields to remotely manipulate microparticle chains embedded in soft robotic devices. The researchers have ...

How to outwit noise in quantum communication

March 29, 2017

How to reliably transfer quantum information when the connecting channels are impacted by detrimental noise? Scientists at the University of Innsbruck and TU Wien (Vienna) have presented new solutions to this problem.

New approach improves potential HIV vaccine

March 29, 2017

By engineering an on/off switch into a weakened form of HIV, University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers have enhanced the safety and effectiveness of a potential vaccine for the virus that has killed approximately 35 million ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.