August 2001

From Virginia Tech

Researchers improve thermal stability of fuel cell materials

(Blacksburg, Va., Aug. 29, 2001) -- Electrochemical energy is released when hydrogen combines with oxygen to produce water. Fuel cell technology can capture this energy to power cars, houses, and cell phones. Why aren't we using fuel cells? One of the limiting features of fuel cells involve the characteristics and stability of polymeric materials used in the proton exchange membrane (PEM) that allows hydrogen protons to pass through to the oxygen side of the fuel cell. Elevated temperatures can shorten the life of the PEM materials.

Virginia Tech researchers have now created PEM polymers able to withstand higher temperatures. They will present their research at the American Chemical Society's 222nd national meeting Aug. 26-30 in Chicago.

"Since water boils at 100 degrees C, we can't easily use PEMs that contain liquid water," explains James E. McGrath, Virginia Tech University Distinguished Professor of chemistry. The researchers have developed PEM nanocompoiste materials using hetropolyacids (HPAs) -- hydrates that contain water molecules and retain them at higher temperatures.

"The HPAs blend well with our PEMs and provide a mechanism for conductivity at higher temperatures -- at least 140 degrees C," says McGrath.

The paper, "Heteropolyacid/sulfonated poly (arylene ether sulfone) composites for proton exchange membranes fuel cells (PMSE 311) will be presented Wednesday, Aug. 29, at 2:25 p.m., at McCormick Place South, Room S104B, Level 1. Authors are postdoctoral associates Yu Seung Kim and Feng Wang, chemical engineering Ph.D. student Michael Hickner, Tom A. Zawodzinski of Los Alamos National Laboratory, and McGrath.

Contact for more information:
James E. McGrath, University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry
office_phone: 1-540-231-5976
email: jmcgrath@vt.edu












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