Alloy lowers fuel-cell cost

February 26/March 5, 2003

Scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have found a way to make fuel cells that are potentially cheaper and easier to manufacture than previous prototypes. The method is a step toward making the relatively clean energy-generating technology commercially viable.

Fuel cells work by converting chemical energy to electricity. The key reaction takes place in a fuel cell's electrodes, where oxygen from the air reacts with the fuel to produce a flow of electrons. The byproducts are water and carbon dioxide.

One of the main barriers to commercially-viable fuel cells is cost; fuel-cell-generated electricity costs 3 to 10 times more than other methods.

The Berkeley researchers brought down the potential cost by replacing a fuel cells' usual ceramic electrodes with a sandwich of metal and ceramic. The alloy is stronger than ceramic and can be welded, and the cost of the raw materials is considerably lower. Previous work opened the door for the alloy by decreasing the fuel-cell reaction temperature from 1,000 to 800 degrees Celsius.

The method could lead to a commercially-viable fuel cell with a materials cost of about $35 per kilowatt in about five years, according to the researchers. -TECHNOLOGY RESEARCH NEWS

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