Sustainable Energy

How Fuel-Cell Membranes Are Made

A new process increases the energy output of methanol fuel cells by 50 percent.

  • by Kristina Grifantini
  • October 20, 2008
  • The process begins with a specially treated silicon disc, which a researcher attaches to a rotating stand in a fume hood. An automated sprayer system emits fine mists of two different polymers and a water solution in a sequence repeated several hundred times in a few hours.
When the membrane is finished, a researcher gently peels it off and cuts it to size for testing.
A researcher sets the membrane in a device that can measure resistance and places it in a humidity chamber. In the chamber, tests are carried out to determine how efficiently protons can pass through the membrane.
If the membrane conducts protons well, a researcher prepares to test it in a fuel cell, placing it between two small, black, circular electrodes. A hot press is then used to seal them inside a square insulating gasket.
This story is part of our November/December 2008 Issue
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The researcher puts the membrane-electrode assembly in a fuel cell, between two graphite blocks. The blocks contain small channels that distribute methanol and air through the cell. Hammond’s team then measures the fuel cell’s efficiency under various conditions.

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