Professor James Economy's Group
New Materials For Fuel Cells
Fuel cells are electrochemical engines that produce electricity from paired oxidation/reduction reactions with flows of fuels and oxidant in and products out.
Compared with traditional thermal engines, fuel cells operate quietly and efficiently, when hydrogen is used as fuel, only power and drinking water generated. Thermodynamically, they are not limited by the Carnot efficiency. Hence, fuel cells can help reduce the consumption of primary energy and emission of carbon dioxide.
The automotive market is by far the largest potential market for fuel cells where Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell receives the most attention. The membrane is usually a perfluorosulfonic acid polymer, i.e. Nafion, developed by Dupont in the 1960s. There are mainly three challenge of PEMFC used in the automobile needed to improve: proton exchange membrane, electro catalyst and hydrogen storage on board.
Currently, we focus on the development of alternative membranes for Nafion. There are three goals we are trying to achieve: synthesize membranes that are cheaper, lower methanol crossover than Nafion and keeping high ion conduction even at the temperature above 100oC, i.e. under anhydrous environment.