Cornell University Scientists Create Tunable Nanostructures for Fuel Cells

Scientists and researchers at Cornell University have spent over 10 years trying to find a way on a nanoscale level to make metal more conductive for fuel cells and batteries. Developing tiny silicon porous structures was part of the key and now the scientists believe they have discovered another important part to the equation that will open the door for more powerful and cheaper fuel cells.

According to Cornell, “The new method builds on the “sol-gel process,” already familiar to chemists. Certain compounds of silicon mixed with solvents will self-assemble into a structure of silicon dioxide (i.e., glass) honeycombed with nanometer-scaled pores. The challenge facing the researchers was to add metal to create a porous structure that conducts electricity … a researcher at Northwestern University, hit on the idea of using an amino acid to link metal atoms to silica molecules, because he had realized that one end of the amino acid molecule has an affinity for silica and the other end for metals.

“The immediate result is a nanostructure of metal, silica and carbon, with much more metal than had been possible before, greatly increasing conductivity. The silica and carbon can be removed, leaving porous metal. But a silica-metal structure would hold its shape at the high temperatures found in some fuel cells, Warren noted, and removing just the silica to leave a carbon-metal complex offers other possibilities, including larger pores.”

The research and discovery by Cornell University has many implications far beyond fuel cells, but having cheaper, more efficient and longer lasting fuel cells is one of the implications. And with the use of nanotechnology growing by leaps and bounds it is only a matter of a very short time until fuel cells replace batteries in many applications and are partnered with batteries in other applications such as future fuel cell hybrid cars.

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