Fuel cells, a
promising form of alternative energy, on a most basic level consists of a
reaction between hydrogen and another chemical, which can be used to drive
electrical current. Typically, the other chemical is oxygen, which is
advantageous in that the byproduct is clean water. The key element to
this process working efficiently is keeping the chemicals in a constant state
of proper limited exposure, and often to catalyze the reaction. To do
this, special membranes go between the two gas fuel components.
Fuel cells are advantageous in that they can
run for long periods of time and do not require combustion, producing less
waste heat. Their lack of moving parts, in most designs, is another
advantage. These pluses have led to their adoption for use in submarines,
remote weather stations, satellites, and other remote applications.
Now researchers at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering developed a breakthrough
in membrane technology. The researchers created a membrane with the
key component being iron nanoparticles. This special new membrane
promises higher efficiency. Furthermore, it should allow fuel cells to
operate at lower humidity and, theoretically, at higher temperatures with less
The research is being reported in the Journal of Membrane Science.
Mark Wiesner, Ph.D., a Duke civil engineer and senior author of the paper,
explains the new membrane's advantages, stating, "The current gold
standard membrane is a polymer that needs to be in a humid environment in order
to function efficiently. If the polymer membrane dries out, its efficiency
drops. We developed a ceramic membrane made of iron nanoparticles that works at
much lower humidity. And because it is a ceramic, it should also tolerate
higher temperatures. If the next series of tests proves that fuel cells
with these new membranes perform well at high temperatures, we believe it might
attract the type of investment needed to bring this technology to the
The current most commonly used membrane, Nafion, was first developed in the
1960s and has changed relatively little since. This polymeric membrane
becomes unstable at high temperatures and loses efficiency due to
dehydration. Nafion membranes are
pricey, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the cost of the average system
by Wiesner's estimates. Wiesner's membranes are significantly cheaper to
The key to proving his new membrane's value are high-temperature trials, says
Wiesner. Wiesner states, "The efficiency of current membranes drops
significantly at temperatures over 190 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the
chemical reactions that create the electricity are more efficient at high
temperatures, so it would be a big improvement for fuel cell technology to make
Wiesner and his team aren't done yet, however. The extremely pure water produced from the
reactions is no longer needed to humidify the cell, thus it can be removed and
used for other purposes. Wiesner and his team are also tinkering with the
membrane's fabrication to try to make it more flexible and more durable.
quote: > "That's a stupid/crappy/retarded analysis."It's actually a fairly astute one. Oil is a world commodity, and sellers don't care why the US debased its currency with poor fiscal policy. If the dollar declines, oil prices rise.Certainly increased demand is bumping up prices, but the fact remains that a fistfull of Euros buys a lot more oil nowadays than the same amount of dollars. Other nations have seen far smaller relative price increases.
quote: Barring a major war, I can safely say $300/bbl oil is out of the question in the 5-year timeframe. As the price rises, too many other alternatives become economic. The Fischer-Tropsch process alone becomes viable at about $200/bbl.
quote: I remember people saying the same thing in the early 1980s. Then what happened? Gas prices went down, way down...and stayed there for more than a decade.The same thing will happen again. Prices will rise a bit more, then the resultant overexpansion will depress prices sharply....then in another couple of decades, the cycle will repeat, with prices rising even higher.
quote: an interview to Bloomberg in July 2006, [Dr. Bakhtiari] stated that world oil production is now at its peak...
quote: And yet, one year later after this "peak", world oil production was substantially higher, all the way up to 80.25M bb/day. So much for that expert.
quote: That said, oil WILL eventually peak. And I can tell you exactly when it will happen. Production will decline as soon as prices rise to the point where other alternatives are more economic -- just as every other peak in history has happened. Production will decline when DEMAND drops...not vice versa. There will be no "crisis"....just an easy switchover to alternatives.
quote: Secondly, the oil crisis is -- while certainly very real -- not quite as large as the media might lead you to believe. Less than five years ago, I read countless articles on how $100/bbl oil would be the death of the nation. Today, oil's brushing $110, and we seem to still be doing just fine.