Alternative Hydrogen Sources For Portable Fuel Cells

In the current climate of environmental awareness the need for alternative energy sources is undeniable.  In this respect hydrogen gas is a frontrunner as a clean burning fuel, with water being the only by-product.  Coupled with a PEM (polymer electrolyte membrane) fuel cell, hydrogen is a promising alternative to gasoline for automotive applications.  While significant progress has been made, this technology is still in its infancy.  A significant drawback in this technology lies in the storage and transportation of hydrogen within a vehicle.  To this end, our project focuses on the delivery of hydrogen to a fuel cell via the hydrolysis of chemical compounds bearing high hydrogen content.  Storage of hydrogen in molecular compounds is a safe and convenient alternative to storing hydrogen in heavy, high-pressure containers.  Moreover, in a typical internal combustion engine only ca. 30% of the energy from gasoline is utilized to propel a vehicle forward.  The remainder is lost as engine waste heat, which is removed by engine coolant.  An additional aspect of this project will be to utilize this wasted heat to power a thermally driven chemical reaction where hydrogen gas is released, which can then enter and power a fuel cell.  Recombination of the by-products from the chemical reaction within the fuel cell would regenerate the original hydrogen containing chemical compound and thereby complete a closed-loop in a thermally regenerative fuel cell.  Our initial target application for this technology will be for low efficiency transport trucks where significant amount of wasted heat is given off during long haul deliveries.

Keith Huynh
Faculty Supervisor: 
Dr. Philip G. Jessop