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U Dayton Researcher Finds a Cheaper Way To Make Longer-Lasting Fuel Cells

Researchers at the University of Dayton have developed a more efficient fuel cell that can be affordably mass produced. Led by Liming Dai, endowed chair in nanomaterials at the university's Wright Brothers Institute in the Department of Chemical & Materials Engineering, scientists have found that carbon nanotubes containing nitrogen are cheaper and work better than platinum in providing long-term fuel cell power. Science Magazine recently published the findings.

Fuel cells convert hydrogen and oxygen to electrical power and water with no air pollution, hazardous waste, or noise.

"Traditionally, fuel cells employ expensive platinum-based electrocatalysts, which cost about $4,000 for a passenger car," Dai said. "The goal is to reduce the major cost of a fuel cell in order to compete with current market technologies, including gasoline engines. Our finding is a major breakthrough toward commercialization of fuel cell technology for various applications."

Dai said those applications could someday include electric and hybrid vehicles, submarines that could operate silently underwater for weeks, airplanes powered by only a fuel cell and lightweight batteries, power plants, notebook computers, portable charging docks for electronics, and power-hogging smart phones with large displays and elaborate features like GPS.

"The importance of developing new types of energy is evident from the fact that global energy consumption has been accelerating at an alarming rate due to rapid economic expansion worldwide, increase in world population, and ever-increasing human reliance on energy-based appliances," Dai said. "As we become more aware of 'greenhouse gases' and their detrimental effects on our planet, clean and renewable energy alternatives like fuel cells become more important than ever."

Michael Durstock in the Air Force Research Laboratory's Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, Zhenhai Xia in the University of Akron Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Kuanping Gong and Feng Du, Dai's colleagues at the University of Dayton, contributed to the report.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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