Engineers Develop New Fuel Cells that Provide Double the Voltage as Hydrogen Ones

Liquid-fueled fuel cells offer an attractive alternative to hydrogen fuel cells.

The transportation system is one of the largest energy consumers, and it relies on proper electrification. Ensuring that that electrification process if environmentally friendly and durable is critical. 

A team of engineers from the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis has found a way to create new fuel cells, which will facilitate the move to electric vehicles, including cars and trucks, and planes and boats. 

Their findings were published in Cell Reports Physical Science on Wednesday. 


Liquid-fueled fuel cells vs. hydrogen fuel cells

Using liquid-fueled fuel cells is an attractive alternative to using the traditional hydrogen fuel cells as the former rules out the requirement of transporting and storing hydrogen. Moreover, they cost less. 

These new types of fuel cells could help power current battery-reliant electric vehicles, underwater vehicles, drones, and future electric aircraft.

The team of engineers has developed high-power direct borohydride fuel cells (DBFC) that work at double the voltage of current hydrogen fuel cells. In doubling the voltage, it allows for a smaller, lighter, and more efficient fuel cell design. 

Engineers Develop New Fuel Cells that Provide Double the Voltage as Hydrogen Ones
How the DBFC performed is in green, Source: Ramani Lab/McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis

"The reactant-transport engineering approach provides an elegant and facile way to significantly boost the performance of these fuel cells while still using existing components," Vijay Ramani, research lead, said. "By following our guidelines, even current, commercially deployed liquid fuel cells can see gains in performance."

The main focus when improving current fuel cell technology is finding ways to reduce and eliminate side reactions. "Fuel cell manufacturers are typically reluctant to spend significant capital or effort to adopt a new material," explained Shrihari Sankarasubramanian, a senior staff research scientist on Ramani’s team. "But achieving the same or better improvement with their existing hardware and components is a game changer."


The team's findings are subject to patent filing, and the team is currently working on scaling up their cells into stacks "for applications in both submersibles and drones," said Ramani.

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