Researchers at Cornell University have been doing some outside the box thinking in regard to fuel cells. They have basically thrown away the expensive Nafion Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) that defines most of today’s hydrogen fuel cells used in cars.
According to RSC.org, “Usually, fuel cells produce electricity from hydrogen or methanol along with oxygen, separating them to create a voltage gradient with an expensive Nafion proton exchange membrane. While working in George Whitesides’ group at Harvard University, US, Stroock designed a microfluidic reactor in which two different solutions flow together but don’t mix.
“Abruña says that this ‘laminar flow’ allows completely new chemistries. His team pairs borohydride ions, which are stable under basic conditions, with cerium ammonium nitrate (CAN) as an oxidant … Team member David Finkelstein notes that while borohydride use is increasingly being considered in fuel cells, conventional approaches can’t exploit it fully.”
Now, I’ve talked about different types of borohydrides before as hydrogen-rich chemical carriers which can be used to power fuel cells. The Cornell University researchers, however, have put a slightly different spin on its use plus have significantly reduced the cost of a fuel cell.
More work, of course is needed to be completed before commercialization, but this give these and other scientists a path for creating robust and inexpensive fuel cells in the future.