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Gasoline fuel cell (vs. gas generator)

by fourier jr
Tags: cell, fuel, gasoline, generator
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fourier jr
Dec3-11, 03:46 PM
P: 948
Fuel cells means chem engineering, right? (move to the right section if necessary) Anyway this sounds great, except that it still uses gasoline:

Now researchers at the University of Maryland have made a fuel cell that could provide a far more efficient alternative to a gasoline generator. Like all fuel cells, it generates electricity through a chemical reaction, rather than by burning fuel, and can be twice as efficient at generating electricity as a generator that uses combustion.

The researchers' fuel cell is a greatly improved version of a type that has a solid ceramic electrolyte, and is known as a solid-oxide fuel cell. Unlike the hydrogen fuel cells typically used in cars, solid-oxide fuel cells can run on a variety of readily available fuels, including diesel, gasoline, and natural gas. They've been used for generating power for buildings, but they've been considered impractical for use in cars because they're far too big and because they operate at very high temperatures—typically at about 900 ⁰C.

By developing new electrolyte materials and changing the cell's design, the researchers made a fuel cell that is much more compact. It can produce 10 times as much power, for its size, as a conventional one, and could be smaller than a gasoline engine while producing as much power.

The researchers have also lowered the temperature at which the fuel cell operates by hundreds of degrees, which will allow them to use cheaper materials. "It's a huge difference in cost," says Eric Wachsman, director of the University of Maryland Energy Research Center, who led the research. He says the researchers have identified simple ways to improve the power output and reduce the temperature further still, using methods that are already showing promising results it the lab. These advances could bring costs to a point that they are competitive with gasoline engines. Wachsman says he's in the early stages of starting a company to commercialize the technology.

Wachsman's fuel cells currently operate at 650 ⁰C, and his goal is to bring that down to 350 ⁰C for use in cars. Insulating the fuel cells isn't difficult since they're small—a fuel cell stack big enough to power a car would only need to be 10 centimeters on a side. High temperatures are a bigger problem because they make it necessary to use expensive, heat-resistant materials within the device, and because heating the cell to operating temperatures takes a long time. By bringing the temperatures down, Wachsman can use cheaper materials and decrease the amount of time it takes the cell to start.
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Jan29-13, 12:49 PM
P: 3
It's a start.

Electric cars with a gas generator, really doesn't make sense since you "lug" around the generator when you're in electric mode and vice versa.

An all electric doesn't make sense b/c range, and charge times.

Other types of fuel cells, you encounter fuel distribution network problems.

The one that makes the most sense (for now) is a gasoline converter/fuel cell. You would have the benefits of an existing gas distribution network (ie. no range anxiety), better public acceptance as the experience of filling up would be the same as "filling up at the gas station", and all the other benefits of a FC. Also, for all you conspiracy theorists out there, that claim that big oil has "killed" the competition, we would still be using gasoline, but significantly more efficiently. Eventually, we could "ween" off of gasoline as we build a new distribution infrastructure (and different fuel sources) (MR FUEL CELL aka Back to the Future).

This is NOT the final solution, but one that makes sense for the times. To avoid FC "warm up" times, couple it to a small battery to move the vehicle (say 20km) while the fuel cell "warms" up. Once the FC warms up, it would act as a generator and continually "top up" the battery.
Feb25-13, 02:57 PM
P: 158
How much less carbon emissions would this fuel cell produce?

Feb26-13, 10:06 AM
P: 3
Gasoline fuel cell (vs. gas generator)

I'm not a "techy" guy, but my understanding is that Fuel cells do not generate emissions when it is "converting" the fuel source to electricity. However, there would be emissions created when manufacturing the units. This is just an idea that I would like to see people discuss. Personally, i only like it b/c a gasoline infrastructure is in place and would reduce "range anxiety" of electric vehicles. This is not the end-all of the problem, but just a nice way to reduce tailpipe emissions. One problem that I am aware of, these fuel cells operate at 400+ it's hot.
Feb26-13, 09:56 PM
PF Gold
P: 3,104
Quote Quote by Ryuk1990 View Post
How much less carbon emissions would this fuel cell produce?
Any hydrocarbon used as fuel would have to reformed as part of the overall system, which would produce the same amount of carbon dioxide per unit of fuel consumed as a combustion process. However, the fuel cell would be far more efficient than the combustion engine, so that less fuel would be consumed per useful amount of motive power produced. For instance, the efficiency of a typical reciprocating combustion engine is around 20% over the typical driving cycle, and the efficiency of some solid oxide fuel cells has been reported up to 60%. So an improvement (decrease in CO2 emissions) by a multiple of 2 or 3 is possible.
Feb27-13, 12:24 PM
P: 3
Thanks, so if FC's are (at least) twice as efficient, then we would consume 1/2 the gas. Hmmmmmmm. I like this idea more. Is there anybody working on this??? If the price were comparable, I'd be first in line to purchase a car with this technology

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