Today the UConn Huskies are getting all the Hoopla for winning the NCAA Basketball Championship beating the Butler Bulldogs quite handily. But, just down the road a spell is something more important, flying under the radar, affecting our energy future.
Scientists at Yale have discovered how to make fuel cells more efficient using Bulk Metallic Glass (BMG) nanowires. The glass nanowires have more surface area than carbon fiber nanotubes and are less expensive to produce than using carbon black.
According to Yale, “But one reason fuel cells aren’t already more widespread is their lack of endurance. Over time, the catalysts used even in today’s state-of-the-art fuels cells break down, inhibiting the chemical reaction that converts fuel into electricity. In addition, current technology relies on small particles coated with the catalyst; however, the particles’ limited surface area means only a fraction of the catalyst is available at any given time.
“Now a team of engineers at the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science has created a new fuel cell catalyst system using nanowires made of a novel material that boosts long-term performance by 2.4 times compared to today’s technology … At 13 nanometers in scale (about 1/10,000 the width of a human hair), the BMG nanowires that Schroers and Taylor developed are about three times smaller than carbon black particles. The nanowires’ long, thin shape gives them much more active surface area per mass compared to carbon black. In addition, rather than sticking platinum particles onto a support material, the Yale team incorporated the platinum into the nanowire alloy itself, ensuring that it continues to react with the fuel over time.”
The method to produce the small glass rods is cheaper than other methods used today. Most likely this new technology will first be used in small electronic devices such as cell phone and laptop computers as a replacement to traditional batteries. One day, however, these fuel cells could make their way into cars as well.
So, while some schools are getting national attention for their sports achievements, scientists and researchers at other schools are quietly working on ways to change the world as we now know it and the future of energy technology.