Clean Power oxford researchers developing miniature hydrogen fuel cell

Published on April 16th, 2011 | by Tina Casey


Is That a Fuel Cell in Your Pocket, Or Are You Just Glad to See Me?

April 16th, 2011 by  

oxford researchers developing miniature hydrogen fuel cellResearchers at Oxford University are developing the basis for a long lasting, non-toxic, low cost miniature hydrogen fuel cell that could power pocket-sized electronic devices as well as laptops and other portables. The downscaled size would be made possible by using a small cartridge of formic acid to create fuel on the go, rather than having to store bulkier quantities of hydrogen. Err…what is formic acid, anyways?

Formic Acid and Fuel Cells

Formic acid is a common organic acid, which occurs naturally in bee and ant venom. Because of its preservative properties it has a variety of industrial and agricultural uses, including fabric, rubber and leather production, and the preservation of livestock feed. Formic acid has caught the eye of researchers for its potential use in fuel cells because it is similar to methanol. It is a liquid at ordinary temperature and pressure, making it easier to store than hydrogen, which has to be stored under pressure.

Oxford’s Miniature Fuel Cell

The research is still quite some distance away from commercialization, but the basics are there. Rather than relying on stored hydrogen, Oxford’s fuel cell would manufacture hydrogen on the go. The research team has developed a catalyst made by layering palladium atoms onto nanoparticles of silver, which would convert formic acid to hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The reaction would take place at room temperature, and the gasses it creates would not contain carbon monoxide or other pollutants that could weaken the catalyst.

A Fuel Cell in Every Garage (and Pot)

If it proves viable, the new technology would join a growing list of fuel cells designed for widespread consumer acceptance, such as MIT researcher Daniel Nocera’s household fuel cell with hydrogen generated by a “solar leaf.” It’s a radical transformation in the way we power domestic devices, but it’s not so far-fetched; after all, millions of households in industrialized countries made the shift from wood and coal to gas and electricity without batting an eye.

Image: Pocket by Triplejohnny on 
Get CleanTechnica’s 1st (completely free) electric car report → “Electric Cars: What Early Adopters & First Followers Want.”
Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.


Tags: , ,

About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

Back to Top ↑
  • Advertisements

  • Top Posts & Pages

  • Cool Cleantech Events

    Low Voltage Electrification Event, April 25-27. Detroit, Michigan (US)
    Delve deep into the benefits and challenges associated with EV power supply.

    Offshore Wind Market Development USA, May 11-12, Boston, Massachusetts (US)
    Network and establish your business in one of North America’s largest energy industries.

    Energy Storage USA, June 15-16, San Diego, California (US)
    Only event in the United States focused exclusively on the commercialization of storage.

    More details are on: Cleantech Events.

  • Advertisement

  • CleanTechnica Electric Car Report

    Electric Cars Early Adopters First Followers
  • Tesla Model 3 Review by EVANNEX

    Tesla Model 3 Review from EVANNEX
  • Tesla Model 3 Exclusive Video

    Tesla Model 3 Video
  • Tesla Model 3 Exclusive Pictures

    Tesla Model 3 Video
  • Tesla Model X Review #1 (Video)

    Tesla Model X Review from new owners Zach Shahan
  • Tesla Model X Review #2 (Pictures)

    Tesla Model X Review from Kyle Field
  • Tesla Model S Long-Term Review

    Tesla Model S Long Term Review from Kyle Field
  • Nissan LEAF Long-Term Review

    Nissan LEAF Long Term Review from Cynthia Shahan
  • Interview with Michael Liebreich

    Interview with Michael Liebreich
  • Interview with Akon (Teslas & Solar)

    Interview with Akon Tesla Model S Tesla Model X Solar Power Africa
  • Interview with Dr Nawal Al-Hosany

    Interview with Dr Nawal Al-Hosany
  • Interview with Gro Brundtland

    Gro Brundtland
  • Interview with President of Iceland

    President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson
  • Interview with Nick Sampson

    Faraday Future VP Nick Sampson
  • Interview with Dipal Barua

    Dipal Barua 1st ZFEP WInner
  • Interview with Jonathon Porritt

    Jonathon Porritt
  • Interview with Clint Wilder

    Interview with Clint Wilder
  • Interviews with Solar Impulse Pilots

    Bertrand Piccard Andre Borschberg
  • Check out more CleanTechnica Videos.

  • Join The Solar Revolution!

    Edison-solar-energy solar-energy-spill-nice-day
  • Cost of Solar Panels

  • Search the IM Network