Cleaner Fuel Cells May be Created with New Method Discovered by Physicists

First Posted: Dec 30, 2015 07:21 AM EST

Scientists may have found a way to create cleaner fuels. Researchers have developed ion-exchange synthetic membranes based on amphiphilic compounds that can convert the energy of chemical reactions into electrical current.

Fuel cells consist of separate galvanic cells. Their closest relatives are batteries (primary cells) and accumulators (secondary cells). Batteries convert the energy of the reaction between an oxidizing agent and a reducing agent, and stop working when these agents are used up. An accumulator is able to store electrical energy applied to it from an external source, convert it to chemical energy, and release it again, reversing the process. A fuel cell, though, gets the material that it needs to function from an external source.

Fuel cells could actually replace internal combustion engines. However, special infrastructure would have to be put in place for this to occur.

Now, scientists may have taken that step. The researchers have learned to form pores from certain molecules for membranes of a fuel cell so that the opening is exactly the diameter required for the optimum functioning of a cell.

The molecules in question with the working names A-Na and Azo-Na are promising substances that are classified as benzenesulfonates. They are wedge-shaped and can independently assemble themselves into supramolecular structures. Depending on conditions set by scientists, the molecules form discs which, in turn, form columns with ion channels inside.

The polymers created with this method were tested for selective permeability of ions and this allowed scientists to identify which conditions of the synthesis of polymer membranes are best suited for making potential fuel cells.

The findings could be huge when it comes to using fuel cells in the future. With that said, more research is needed before cells are used in day-to-day applications.

The findings are published in the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics.

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