Improving the structure of fuel cells

The team of Drs Stevens BERGENS and Rod WASYLISHEN of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Alberta produced the first images of the interior of a working fuel cell. The objective of this study was to understand how water behaves inside a fuel cell running on hydrogen. Their preliminary discoveries
have been published in the Journal of the American Chemistry Society.

They are expected to improve the design of fuel cells and, consequently, their efficiency. Indeed, while significant advances have already been made in the field of fuel cells, with pilot programs of buses and cars fueled with hydrogen in particular, this technology still presents some imperfections. The generation of electricity from hydrogen is possible through a relatively simple chemical reaction. In the battery, hydrogen and oxygen react to form water. It is this water production which then poses a problem. When water is present in too much quantity in the cell, it blocks the inflows of hydrogen and oxygen; when it is not sufficiently present, the circulation of the protons resulting from the hydrogen is no longer ensured correctly and the reaction cannot take place.

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To better understand this delicate balance, the researchers had the idea of ​​resorting to MRI imaging. Although it is very delicate to observe the operation of the battery in the magnetic field induced by MRI, they were able to obtain images illustrating how the efficiency of the battery increases or decreases with the amount of water present. The idea now is to build a smaller cell that can give a clearer picture of the interior of a working fuel cell. The team has already been contacted by Ballard Power Systems, the leading Vancouver fuel cell company.

contacts:
- The U of A Department of Chemistry website:
http://www.chem.ualberta.ca/
- Journal of the American Chemistry Society online:
http://www.cbcrp.org/
- The Ballard Power Systems website: http://www.ballard.com/
Sources: University of Alberta Express News, 16 / 11 / 2004
Editor: Delphine Dupre VANCOUVER,
attache-scientifique@consulfrance-vancouver.org

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