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Low-Cost Anion Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells

Institution: Michigan Technological University
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Why This Project Is Important 

The annual production of renewable biodiesel in the US alone is 2.5 trillion liters per year (estimated in 2008), and is expected to continue rapid growth in the future. From this production of renewable biodiesel comes residual waste. With biodiesel manufacturing weight around 10 percent, crude glycerol will be generated as a very cheap residual ($0.74–0.89 per gallon). However, handling the biodiesel residual will make the plants lose their overall profit up to 8 percent. In another aspect, development of high-power-density mobile power generation devices with cheap and biorenewable fuels is always in high demand for autos, stationary, and military applications. Therefore, there is a clear and urgent need to explore novel direct crude glycerol fuel cell techniques to provide a promising solution to using excessive biodiesel residual crude glycerol.

Project Description 

This project is to develop low-cost anion exchange membrane fuel cells (AEMFCs) that are directly fed with biodiesel waste crude glycerol to efficiently generate electrical power. Our prototype single AEMFCs have demonstrated a world-record performance of 265 mW/cm2 directly fed with 88 percent weight percent soybean biodiesel-derived crude glycerol (one of the cheapest alcohols in market). To make this technology more competitive, especially compared to internal combustion engine and hydrogen-proton exchange membrane fuel cells, we aim to achieve the following technical targets:

  • < 0.1 mgPt/cm2 electrode,
  • > 400 mW/cm2 at 0.5 V (40 percent thermo-efficiency), > 200 mW/cm2 at 0.7 V (57 percent thermo-efficiency), ambient air,
  • performance degradation:
  • liquid base in the fuel feeding: < 1.0 M.

We will develop inexpensive, highly active nanocatalysts to significantly reduce precious metal loading and greatly improve glycerol oxidation activity and explore high performance AEMFCs directly fed with biodiesel residual crude glycerol using our novel catalysts. This project will facilitate development of durable, high power-density mobile power devices with cheap, biorenewable, non-refined glycerol, and accelerate the research and development of new generation fuel cells for autos, stationary, and military applications.

Meet the Researcher

Wenzhen Li

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  • Develop low-cost anion exchange membrane fuel cells
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