New materials for fuel cells

Scientists at Virginia Tech have developed a material which, they claim, could significantly enhance the performance of Hydrogen fuel cells.

One of the problems with fuel cells involves the characteristics and stability of the polymeric materials used in the membrane that allows hydrogen protons (H+ ions) to pass through to the oxygen side of the fuel cell, where it can release electrochemical energy by reaction with the oxygen to produce water.

Existing materials have a reasonable life at 80¡C, but a number of experts have suggested that operation at 120¡C or higher would be more efficient.

At the American Chemical Society National Meeting March 26-30 in San Francisco, Virginia Tech researchers will present three approaches for a new generation of heat tolerant PEM materials

The researchers’ common approach has been to develop PEM wholly aromatic polymers that incorporate the ion conductor sulfonic acid groups at the monomer level rather than during a post reaction, after the polymer has been formed.

‘Direct polymerisation, or introduction of the ion conductor during a direct reaction from the monomers, instead of a post reaction after polymerisation, allows us to develop a better understanding of what the molecular structure is,’ explains James McGrath, professor of chemistry and director of the Materials Institute at Virginia Tech. ‘The polymer materials appear to be more stable and better defined when the ion conductor is incorporated during the polymerisation, as part of one of the monomers.’