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NEWS
Fuel Cells With Twice The Operating Voltage As Hydrogen Developed
July 14, 2020

Electrification of the transportation sector — one of the largest consumers of energy in the world — is critical to future energy and environmental resilience. Electrification of this sector will require high-power fuel cells (either stand alone or in conjunction with batteries) to facilitate the transition to electric vehicles, from cars and trucks to boats and airplanes.

Liquid-fueled fuel cells are an attractive alternative to traditional hydrogen fuel cells because they eliminate the need to transport and store hydrogen. They can help to power unmanned underwater vehicles, drones and, eventually, electric aircraft — all at significantly lower cost. These fuel cells could also serve as range-extenders for current battery-powered electric vehicles, thus advancing their adoption.

According to information, now, engineers at the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis have developed high-power direct borohydride fuel cells (DBFC) that operate at double the voltage of conventional hydrogen fuel cells. Their research was published recently in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science.

The research team, led by Vijay Ramani, the Roma B. and Raymond H. Wittcoff Distinguished University Professor, has pioneered a reactant: identifying an optimal range of flow rates, flow field architectures and residence times that enable high power operation. This approach addresses key challenges in DBFCs, namely proper fuel and oxidant distribution and the mitigation of parasitic reactions.

Importantly, the team has demonstrated a single-cell operating voltage of 1.4 or greater, double that obtained in conventional hydrogen fuel cells, with peak powers approaching 1 watt/cm2. Doubling the voltage would allow for a smaller, lighter, more efficient fuel cell design, which translates to significant gravimetric and volumetric advantages when assembling multiple cells into a stack for commercial use. Their approach is broadly applicable to other classes of liquid/liquid fuel cells.

“This promising technology has been developed with the continuous support of the Office of Naval Research, which I acknowledge with gratitude. We are at the stage of scaling up our cells into stacks for applications in both submersibles and drones,” said Prof. Ramani.

The technology and its underpinnings are the subject of patent filing and are available for licensing.


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