Archive | Fuel Cells

Bacteria May Signal Through Nanowires

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 12 (UPI) — Some bacteria can grow electrical “hair” that allows them to link up in big biological circuits and create large cooperating colonies, U.S. researchers say.

The finding by a University of Southern California biophysicist suggests microbial colonies can grow, communicate and share energy through electrically conducting hairs known as nanowires, ScienceDaily.com reported Monday.

“This is the first measurement of electron transport along biological nanowires produced by bacteria,” Mohamed El-Naggar, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at USC, said.

Understanding how such microbial colonies survive could be a step in discovering ways to destroy harmful communities, such as biofilms on teeth, that have proven highly resistant to antibiotics.

Such understanding could also be used to promote beneficent colonies such as those in bacterial fuel cells under development at many institutions.

“The flow of electrons in various directions is intimately tied to the metabolic status of different parts of the biofilm,” El-Naggar said. “Bacterial nanowires can provide the necessary links … for the survival of a microbial circuit.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Study: Energy Self-sufficiency is Closer

BOSTON, Aug. 23 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they’ve made a discovery that could bring the era of energy self-sufficient homes and small businesses one step closer.

Scientists at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society have reported the discovery of a powerful catalyst that would be a key element in inexpensive solar energy systems that could free homes and businesses from dependence on the electric company, a society release said Monday.

“Our goal is to make each home its own power station,” study leader Daniel Nocera said. “We’re working toward development of ‘personalized’ energy units that can be manufactured, distributed and installed inexpensively.

“There certainly are major obstacles to be overcome — existing fuel cells and solar cells must be improved, for instance. Nevertheless, one can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic system.”

Such systems would use solar panels to generate electricity needed for heating, lighting and cooking during the day. Surplus energy created would be stored in an “electrolyzer” which breaks ordinary water down into hydrogen and oxygen, which would be stored in tanks.

At night, with no energy coming from solar panels, the system would feed the hydrogen and oxygen back into fuel cells that produce electricity.

The newly discovered catalyst can boost the output of the electrolyzer 200-fold, researchers say.

The catalyst has been licensed to a company, Sun Catalytix, which says it is working to develop safe, super-efficient versions of the electrolyzer, suitable for homes and small businesses, within two years.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Urine Eyed As Possible Power Source

BRISTOL, England, July 31 (UPI) — British researchers say they are looking at urine as a possible energy source for fuel cells that could power autonomous robots.

Scientists at the University of Bristol say the waste product could serve as the fuel for microbial fuel cells, which use bacterial cultures that digest waste to create power, ScienceDaily.com reported Wednesday.

A team at the university’s Bristol Robotic Lab has spent more than 3 years developing EcoBot-III, a robot that can power itself by converting waste such as rotten fruit and grass clippings into power.

As part of their research to find the best waste materials that create the most energy, they will look at urine as a “food” for the microbial power units, the team leader says.

“Urine is chemically very active, rich in nitrogen and has compounds such as urea, chloride, potassium and bilirubin, which make it very good for the microbial fuel cells,” Dr. Ioannis Ieropoulos says.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Discovery is Prepped for Its Final Journey

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., June 24 (UPI) — Kennedy Space Center technicians Thursday removed space shuttle Discovery’s three main engines in order to remove and replace a malfunctioning turbopump.

Workers at NASA’s Orbiter Processing Facility-3 at the space center also tested the shuttle’s power reactant distribution system, which serves Discovery’s electricity-generating fuel cells.

And at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, STS-133 astronauts Tim Kopra and Alvin Drew rehearsed spacewalk procedures Thursday at the facility’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab.??

All that activity is focused on Discovery’s planned Sept. 15 launch on its final scheduled mission into space. However, space agency officials said that date might be moved to Oct. 29, with STS-134 moving to February 2011. NASA said the requested rescheduling is under consideration and an announcement is expected by July 1.

“During space shuttle Discovery’s final spaceflight, the STS-133 crew members will take important spares to the International Space Station along with the Express Logistics Carrier 4,” the space agency said in a statement.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Hydrogen Storage-generating System Created

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., June 16 (UPI) — U.S. chemical engineers say they’ve developed a process called hydrothermolysis that generates and stores hydrogen to run fuel cells in cars.

Purdue University Professor Arvind Varma, who led the research, said the process uses a powdered chemical called ammonia borane, which has one of the highest hydrogen contents of all solid materials.

“This is the first process to provide exceptionally high hydrogen yield values at near the fuel-cell operating temperatures without using a catalyst, making it promising for hydrogen-powered vehicles,” he said. “We have a proof of concept.”

Ammonia borane contains 19.6 percent hydrogen, a high weight percentage that means a relatively small quantity and volume of the material are needed to store large amounts of hydrogen, Varma said.

“The key is how to efficiently release the hydrogen from this compound, and that is what we have discovered,” he said.

The research that included former doctoral student Moiz Diwan, postdoctoral researcher Hyun Tae Hwang and doctoral student Ahmad al-Kukhun was presented Tuesday in Philadelphia during the International Symposium on Chemical Reaction Engineering.

The study will also appear in an upcoming issue of the AIChE Journal, published by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Fuel Cell Technology Advance Reported

PROVIDENCE, R.I., May 27 (UPI) — U.S. chemists say a nanoparticle with a palladium core and an iron-platinum shell can outperform commercially available pure-platinum fuel cell catalysts.

The scientists at Brown University and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory said their finding could move fuel cells a step closer to reality.

The researchers said creating catalysts that can operate efficiently and last a long time has been a big barrier in fuel-cell technology. Platinum has been the choice for many researchers, but platinum has two major downsides: It’s expensive, and it breaks down over time in fuel-cell reactions.

In the new research led by Professor Shouheng Sun, the scientists said they created a unique core and shell nanoparticle that uses far less platinum, yet performs more efficiently and lasts longer than commercially available pure-platinum catalysts at the cathode end of fuel-cell reactions.

The research team — including Brown graduate student Vismadeb Mazumder, as well as Miaofang Chi and Karren More at the Oak Ridge Laboratory — created a five-nanometer palladium core and encircled it with a shell consisting of iron and platinum.

In laboratory tests, the palladium/iron-platinum nanoparticles generated 12 times more current than commercially available pure-platinum catalysts at the same catalyst weight. The output also remained consistent during 10,000 cycles, at least 10 times longer than commercially available platinum models, the scientists said.

The research appears in The Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Atlantis Launch Still on for Friday

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., May 12 (UPI) — The Friday afternoon launch of the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis remains on schedule, NASA staff in Florida said Wednesday.

Countdown clocks at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center were activated at 4 p.m. EDT Tuesday, setting the timer for the 2:20 p.m. Friday blastoff of Atlantis on a 12-day mission to the International Space Station orbiting above Earth.

“From a space shuttle program and ISS program standpoint, we’re ready to launch Atlantis and get this mission under way,” said Mike Moses, chairman of the pre-launch mission management team at Kennedy that gave a unanimous “go” for liftoff.

Launch Director Mike Leinbach said the launch staff had not come across any issues that would prevent an on-time liftoff.

Atlantis’s astronauts spent the day relaxing while technicians at Launch Pad 39A loaded the orbiter’s power reactant and storage distribution system, which supplies super-cold propellants to the vehicle’s three fuel cells and life-support system during flight.

Weather-wise, a high-pressure system was expected to hold over Florida for the remainder of the week. Other than a low cloud ceiling, the forecast is for a 70 percent chance of favorable conditions at launch time, NASA said.

During the STS-132 mission, Atlantis and its six astronauts will transport an integrated cargo carrier and a Russian-built mini research module to the space station.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Liquid-solid Interaction Measures Improved

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., April 27 (UPI) — U.S.-led scientists say they’ve created a technique that produces unprecedented precision in measuring liquid-solid interactions.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers explained a liquid’s “wettability” — the degree to which it either spreads over a surface or forms into droplets — is crucial to a wide variety of processes. However, the only way to quantify such liquid-solid interaction characteristic has been to measure the shapes of droplets that form on a material.

But now MIT researchers say they’ve found a way to improve the resolution of such measurements by a factor of 10,000 or more. In addition, they said the new method can be used to study curved, textured or complex solid surfaces — something that could not be done previously.

“This is something that was unthinkable before,” said Associate Professor Francesco Stellacci, who led the study. “It allows us to make a map of the wetting,” that is, a detailed view of exactly how the liquid interacts with a surface down to the level of individual molecules or atoms.

Stellacci said the ability to obtain such detailed images is important for the study of such processes as catalysis, corrosion and the internal functioning of batteries and fuel cells, along with many biological processes such as interactions between proteins.

The research that included postdoctoral fellow Kislon Voitchovsky and colleagues in England and Italy appears in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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MIT's Proposed Green Power Plant

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Dec. 4 (UPI) — Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have proposed a new type of natural-gas electric power plant that could provide electricity with zero carbon dioxide emissions.

The system, based on solid-oxide fuel cells that produce power from fuel without burning it, would not emit any carbon dioxide or other gases into the air. Instead, it would produce a stream of mostly pure carbon dioxide, which could be harnessed and stored underground through carbon capture and sequestration.

The system, proposed by postdoctoral associate Thomas Adams and Paul I. Barton, the Lammot du Pont Professor of Chemical Engineering of MIT, runs on natural gas, considered to be more environmentally friendly than coal or oil. According to the researchers, natural gas is a relatively plentiful fuel source, with proven global reserves expected to last about 60 years at current consumption rates.

Natural gas power plants currently produce an average of 1,135 pounds of carbon dioxide for every megawatt-hour of electricity produced, which is half to one-third the amount emitted from coal plants.

Conventional natural gas plants with CCS typically consume large amounts of water. But the proposed MIT system produces clean water, Adams said, that could be treated to provide potable water.

The system would not require any new technology, but instead would combine existing components or ones that are already well under development, in a novel configuration for which the researchers have applied for a patent.

The basic principles of the plant have been successfully demonstrated in a number of smaller units, including a 250-kilowatt plant. Practical application of such systems, Adams said, is “not very far away at all” and could be ready for commercialization within a few years.

“This is near-horizon technology,” he said in a MIT release.

When it comes to generating electricity, “the cheapest fuel will always be pulverized coal,” Adams said.

Adams and Barton, with funding from the BP-MIT Conversion Research Program, used computer simulations to analyze the relative costs and performance of the system, comparing it to existing or proposed generating systems, including coal-powered systems incorporating carbon capture technologies.

Adams pointed out that when there is some form of carbon pricing — which attempts to take into account the true price exacted on the environment by greenhouse gas emissions — “ours is the lowest price option,” if the pricing is more than about $15 per metric tons of emitted carbon dioxide.

If the cap-and-trade provisions of the Clean Energy and Security Act were enacted, Adams said, the actual price of carbon per ton would vary, as determined by the market.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Coal, Consumption, Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Engineering, Fuel Cells, Natural Gas, Other, Science, Space, & Technology0 Comments

Canadian Scientists Build a Better and More Efficient Fuel Cell

CALGARY, Alberta, Oct. 20 (UPI) — Canadian scientists say they have discovered a new material that can help increase the efficiency and decrease the cost of fuel cells.

University of Calgary chemists Jeff Hurd and Professor George Shimizu said they discovered a material that allows a fuel cell — known as a polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell — to work at a higher temperature. That, they said, is extremely important in terms of increasing the efficiency and decreasing the cost of PEM fuel cells.

“This research will alter the way researchers have to this point perceived candidate materials for fuel cell applications,” Shimizu said.

The study that included Ramanathan Vaidhyanathan and Venkataraman Thangadurai of the University of Calgary and Christopher Ratcliffe and Igor Moudrakovski of the Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences appears in the early online edition of the journal Nature Chemistry.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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