Researchers may have developed more practical and affordable fuel cells.
A methane fuel cell may be the answer to reducing the cost and upping the practicality of today’s fuel cells. According to a new study published in the journal Nature Energy, researchers from Georgia have discovered a new fuel catalyst that has allowed them to reimagine fuel cells.
The new fuel cell can run at a much lower temperature compared to typical fuel cells.
The catalyst is not reliant on expensive hydrogen fuel. Instead, it makes its own from methane, which is readily available. Even better, it manages to do this at a lower temperature than is typical of methane fuel cells.
Usually, in order to run, these fuel cells need temperatures of 750 to 1,000 degrees Celsius. The one that the researchers’ built required only about 500 degrees Celsius. This is incredible because this is even cooler than vehicle combustion engines, which typically operate at about 600 degrees Celsius.
This lower temperature could make the ancillary technology needed to operate a fuel cell much more cost effective, which could help push it toward commercial viability. Moreover, with this new cell, a major ancillary device known as a steam reformer is not needed to convert methane and water into hydrogen fuel.
The methane fuel cell has the high potential to become commercially viable.
The researchers based their work on solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), which are well-known for their versatility in fuel they can utilize.
If the new fuel cell technology eventually goes to market, while it might not be a power solution for automobiles right way, it could help to create a more decentralize, cheaper and cleaner electrical power grid.
The fuel cell device would be no larger than a shoebox and be equipped with ancillary technology to make it operation. Due to its size it could easily be stored in a home.
“The hope is you could install this device like a tankless water heater. It would run off of natural gas to power your house,” says study leader Meilin Liu, a professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech, reported Georgia Tech. “That would save society and industry the enormous cost of new power plants and large electrical grid expansions.”
“It would make homes and businesses more power independent. That kind of system would be called distributed generation,” Liu added.
It will be interesting to see if the lower temperature methane fuel cell will one day make the adoption of fuel cells more practical and affordable.