NASA develops liquid methanol fuel cell to produce electricity
Scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have developed a direct methanol fuel cell technology that uses liquid methanol to produce electricity without additional processing.
The novel fuel cell, which was developed in partnership with the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, uses liquid methanol, an alcohol compound usually known as wood alcohol or methyl alcohol, to produce electricity. The byproducts of the fuel cell are only pure water and carbon dioxide – no pollutants are emitted.
A 300-watt prototype of the direct methanol fuel cell was developed for future commercial and defense applications.
“This fuel cell may well become the power source of choice for energy-efficient, non-polluting military and consumer applications,” said Gerald Halpert, former Electromechanical Technologies group supervisor at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Direct methanol fuel cells have several advantages over the current fuel cell systems when it comes to simplicity of design and energy density. One of the biggest advantages is that current systems rely on hydrogen gas which is difficult to transport and store compared to methanol.
“We are looking forward to working closely with the fuel cell industry to further develop this technology to meet future market needs,” said Erik Brandon, the current Electromechanical Technologies group supervisor at the laboratory.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been working on the idea of using direct methanol fuel cells for several years now.
From 1989 to 1998, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an agency responsible for the development of new technologies for military use, was funded by the laboratory and the University of Southern California to develop the direct methanol fuel cell for future defense applications.
Scientists at the laboratory have also considered applying direct methanol fuel cells to substitute lithium-ion batteries on mobile devices. They claim that liquid fuels such as methanol can potentially provide ten times more energy content than lithium-ion batteries. In addition, using methanol has the possibility of an instantaneous recharge by change of a fuel cartridge. (L.J. Polintan)
A. Arboleya, Cátedra Telefónica Universidad de Oviedo