Published on July 2nd, 2012 | by Joshua S Hill


Imagine the Fuel Cell that Keeps Running After the Hydrogen Runs Out

July 2nd, 2012 by  

Materials scientists at Harvard have demonstrated a solid-oxide fuel cell that converts hydrogen into electricity but that also stores electrochemical energy like a battery, allowing it to continue producing power for a short time after the original fuel source has been depleted.

“This thin-film SOFC takes advantage of recent advances in low-temperature operation to incorporate a new and more versatile material,” explains principal investigator Shriram Ramanathan, Associate Professor of Materials Science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). “Vanadium oxide (VOx) at the anode behaves as a multifunctional material, allowing the fuel cell to both generate and store energy.”

This new discovery will be most important in situations where a compact and lightweight power supply is essential but where the fuel supply may be interrupted.

“Unmanned aerial vehicles, for instance, would really benefit from this,” says lead author Quentin Van Overmeere, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS. “When it’s impossible to refuel in the field, an extra boost of stored energy could extend the device’s lifespan significantly.”

There isn’t much use my attempting to rewrite the wonderful explanation available over at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences website. So head on over there now for more.

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  • Bob_Wallace

    It’s interesting, but should we be impressed?

    I don’t see anything about this fuel cell being more efficient, just that it continues to produce power “3 minutes, 30 seconds” after the fuel is shut off/runs out.

    In practical use it would mean that you’d have to shut your FCEV down a few minutes before you arrived at your destination in order to not waste energy.  (Unless this device can store that 00:03:30 without self discharge.)

    In their example of a fuel cell airplane, you could get the same flight time by simply burning fuel a bit slower.  

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