Scientists, corporations and the military are all interested in fuel cells, which are far more efficient and less polluting than other energy sources. Work to develop commercial fuel cells, however, has been hindered by the limited fuel sources on which they have been known to run.
"There used to be a saying that you could run a fuel cell on any fuel as long as its hydrogen," said Raymond J. Gorte, professor of chemical engineering at Penn and the lead author of a Journal of the Electrochemical Society paper reporting the finding.
Gorte and colleague John M. Vohs, professor and chair of chemical engineering at Penn, shook the fuel cell world in March 2000 with the publication of a Nature paper in which they reported developing a fuel cell that could run on butane, the first fuel cell to operate on a fuel other than hydrogen. With the development of a fuel cell that runs directly on liquid diesel of the type sold at gas stations, the team has sidestepped the thorny problem of "reforming" fuels to hydrogen to run fuel cells.
"In our earlier work, we were unable to feed liquid diesel to the fuel cell because we did not have a means for vaporizing fuels that have a low vapor pressure at room temperature," Gorte said. "This paper demonstrated that we could feed these liquids to a fuel cell using a method analogous to a fuel injector in an internal combustion engine and still get stable operation of the fuel cell."
Much past research with fuel cells has focused on the messy question of how best to process, or "reform," available hydrocarbon
Contact: Steve Bradt
University of Pennsylvania