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Chemical Nets New Fuel Cell Apps

The discovery of a new chemical called triazole would make fuel cells more affordable and practical for use in cars, cell phones, and laptops.

A team of researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology led by Meilin Liu, professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering, has found triazole to be more effective than similar chemicals to increase conductivity and reduce moisture dependence in polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells. The use of triazole solves a persistent problem of fuel cells – heat. Ceramic fuel cells currently on the market run at a very high temperature (about 800 degrees Celsius) and are too hot for most portable applications such as small electronics. Heat must be removed from the fuel cells to keep them cool, and a water balance has to be maintained to ensure the required hydration of the PEMs. “We’re using the triazole to replace water,” Liu said. “By doing so, we can bring up the temperature significantly.” Triazole is also a very stable chemical and fosters stable fuel cell operating conditions. In fact, by using triazole-containing PEMs, Liu’s team increased the PEM fuel cell operating temperatures to above 120 degrees Celsius, eliminating the need for a water management system and simplifying the cooling system. Liu said his team is currently looking into better polymers to get those temperatures even higher. The findings were published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.