Proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells that use methanol as fuel offer enormous potential for transitioning consumers to electric cars, while leveraging the advantages of a familiar liquid fuel infrastructure. Such fuel cells, however, depend on a separate reformer to extract the hydrogen from the methanol. Now, a joint research team from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the University of Southern California (USC) has developed a direct methanol liquid feed fuel cell (DMLFFC) that not only doesn't require a reformer, it actually produces more energy from a mixture of 97% water and 3% methanol than from methanol or hydrogen alone. The secret lies in the addition of 50% ruthenium to the normally platinum-only anode catalyst. The carbon-to-hydrogen bonds in the methanol/water solution are broken in the presence of the catalyst, resulting in hydrogen ions (protons) and electrons--the output current. The protons migrate through the membrane and combine with oxygen from the air to produce water. This water is remixed with the methanol fuel so that only methanol has to be added to the cell. To date, prototypes have run for more than 200 hours continuously and for more than 3,000 hours intermittently, without loss of performance. FAX (818) 354-4537.
The engineers and inventors of the post WWII period turned their attention to advancements in electronics, communication, and entertainment. Breakthrough inventions range from LEGOs and computer gaming to the integrated circuit and Ethernet -- a range of advancements that have little in common except they changed our lives.
Neil Fromer is the executive director of the Resnick Institute, a program for energy and sustainability at the California Institute of Technology, working to develop new ideas and research technologies related to providing a sustainable future. He spoke to us about the severity of the current drought in California and how solar energy can help prevent such situations in the future.
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