The development of commercial fuel-cell powered applications could be one step closer for scientists at the University of St Andrews.
A new project has been launched with the support of a £60,000 grant from The BOC Foundation, an organisation which supports practical means of reducing pollution in the UK.
Scientists believe future generations will use fuel cells to power everything from handheld electronic devices to cars and buildings. The global market for fuel cells and hydrogen technology is estimated to be worth $20 billion by 2011.
BOC Foundation funding will allow Professor John Irvine to build upon recent advances in fuel cell technology already achieved by his team at the University’s School of Chemistry.
Professor Irvine runs a cutting-edge research programme of innovative work on materials for fuel cells -mini power plants which produce electricity at the very highest efficiencies. The most important thing about fuel cells is that they operate with high efficiency over a wide range of scales and so offer the prospect of a new, decentralised energy economy.
Professor Irvine said: “If successful, the project could eventually lead to lower cost, and more efficient fuel cell systems without the need for complex and expensive fuel processors.
“Whilst fuel cell technology offers a major displacement of current energy technologies, its early commercial application will undoubtedly focus on high value applications such as portable, leisure and military. Essential to these early commercialisation applications is the ability to utilise liquid hydrocarbon fuels such as butane, or liquid petroleum gas, LPG.”
The St Andrews team have already developed the novel ‘SOFCRoll’ fuel cell design, which can compete with other fuel cell designs being developed globally. Solid Oxide Fuel Cell technology (SOFC), the leading fuel cell device, is a ceramic device capable of efficient conversion of chemical to electrical energy at high temperatures.
The group are interested in the development of improved materials and will use the new funding to investigate a new oxide-based fuel electrode they have recently discovered. Although, the importance of developing new oxide anodes is widely recognised, there have been few structured programmes aimed at finding new anode materials, developing them and testing them in natural gas.
The possibility of incorporating this anode into the patented St Andrews fuel cell concept will also be investigated. The new one-year project aims to demonstrate the fuel cell operating efficiently using liquid petroleum gas through the newly-developed anode and at high temperatures.
The BOC Foundation is an independent organisation established by The BOC Group, on of the world’s leading gas companies. The Foundation currently funds a wide range of environmental projects in the UK
For more information on fuel cells, click here.