New fuel cell can run on conventional diesel

Researchers in the US have developed a new fuel cell that cuts out the current infrastructure problems associated with using hydrogen as a fuel.

The fuel cell, developed by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, can use conventional diesel, and produces water, carbon dioxide and heat. “In our earlier work, we were unable to feed liquid diesel to the fuel cell because we did not have a means for vaporising fuels that have low vapour pressure at room temperature,” said Raymond J Gorte, Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, and research leader. Now, however, he and his team have demonstrated that liquids can be fed to a fuel cell using a method similar to a fuel injector in an internal combustion engine.

The prototype still requires very high temperatures in which to operate – one of the main drawbacks of fuel cells – and currently operates in a furnace set at 700ºC (1292ºF), although the researchers say that a commercial fuel cell would ideally generate that heat itself using the fuel placed in it.

“We are excited by the progress that Professor Gorte and his colleagues are making in the area of direct oxidation of hydrocarbon fuels using solid oxide fuel cells,” said David Bauer, team leader for the Solid Oxide Fuel Cell project at the Ford Research Laboratory in Dearborn, Michigan. “The ability to utilise conventional fuels with little or no reforming is particularly important in transportation applications where fuel storage and system packaging are such critical issues.”

“There used to be a saying that you could run a fuel cell on any fuel as long as it’s hydrogen,” notes Gorte. The researchers suggest that this fuel cell could be used to power cars and laptop computers.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie