Revolutionary fuel cell design to make cheaper vehicles feasible

August 4th, 2008 - 4:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Aug 4 (IANS) A reworked design of fuel cells used in the latest hybrid cars will help make vehicles more reliable and cheaper to build in the future. The breakthrough is based on the inclusion of a specially-coated form of popular outdoor and sporting clothing material Goretex in the fuel cell.

Monash University scientists have designed and tested an air-electrode, where a fine layer 100 times thinner than human hair of highly conductive plastic is deposited on the breathable fabric. The conductive plastic acts as both the fuel cell electrode and catalyst.

Monash University’s Bjorn Winther-Jensen said just as Goretex had revolutionised the outdoor clothing industry, it could hold similar promise for motorists.

“The same way as waste vapour is drawn out of this material to make hikers more comfortable … so it is able to ‘breathe’ oxygen into our fuel cell and into contact with the conductive plastic,” Winter-Jensen said.

Monash University’s Doug MacFarlane said the discovery was probably the most important development in fuel cell technology in the last 20 years.

“The benefits for the motoring industry and for motorists are that the new design removes the need for platinum, which acts as the catalyst and is currently central to the manufacturing process,” MacFarlane said.

“Our reliance on platinum is making the likelihood of using fuel cells in everyday passenger cars increasingly improbable.

“The cost of the platinum component alone of current fuel cells for a small car with a 100 KW electric engine is more than the total cost of an 100 KW gasoline engine. Also current annual world production of platinum is only sufficient for about three million 100 KW vehicles.”

The new design fuel cell has been tested for periods of up to 1,500 hours continuously using hydrogen as the fuel source.

These findings have been published in the Aug 1 issue of Science.

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