Studies On Direct Methanol And Direct Borohydride Fuel Cells
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A fuel cell is an electrochemical power source with advantages of both the combustion engine and the battery. Like a combustion engine, a fuel cell will run as long as it is provided fuel; and like a battery, fuel cells convert chemical energy directly to electrical energy. As an electrochemical power source, fuel cells are not subjected to the Carnot limitations of combustion (heat) engines. Fuel cells bear similarity to batteries, with which they share the electrochemical nature of the power generation process and to the engines that, unlike batteries, will work continuously consuming a fuel of some sort. A fuel cell operates quietly and efficiently and, when hydrogen is used as a fuel, it generates only power and water. Thus, a fuel cell is a so called ‘zero-emission engine’. In the past, several fuel cell concepts have been tested in the laboratory but the systems that are being potentially considered for commercial developments are: (i) Alkaline Fuel Cells (AFCs), (ii) Phosphoric Acid Fuel Cells (PAFCs), (iii) Polymer Electrolyte Fuel Cells (PEFCs), (iv) Solid Polymer Electrolyte Direct Methanol Fuel Cells (SPE-DMFCs), (v) Molten Carbonate Fuel Cells (MCFCs) and (vi) Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFCs). Among the aforesaid systems, PEFCs that employ hydrogen as fuel are considered attractive power systems for quick start-up and ambient temperature operations. Ironically, however, hydrogen as fuel is not available freely in the nature. Accordingly, it has to be generated from a readily available hydrogen carrying fuel such as natural gas, which needs to be reformed. But, such a process leads to generation of hydrogen contaminated with carbon monoxide, which even at minuscule level is detrimental to the fuel cell performance. Pure hydrogen can be generated through water electrolysis but hydrogen thus generated needs to be stored as compressed/liquefied gas, which is cost-intensive. Therefore, certain hydrogen carrying organic fuels such as methanol, ethanol, propanol, ethylene glycol and diethyl ether have been considered for fueling PEFCs directly. Among these, methanol with hydrogen content of about 12.8 wt.% (specific energy = 6.1kWh kg-1) is the most attractive organic liquid. PEFCs using methanol directly as fuel are referred to as SPE-DMFCs. But SPE-DMFCs suffer from methanol crossover across the polymer electrolyte membrane, which affects the cathode performance and hence the fuel cell during its operation. SPE-DMFCs also have inherent limitations of low open-circuit-potential and low electrochemical-activity. An obvious solution to the aforesaid problems is to explore other promising hydrogen carrying fuels such as sodium borohydride (specific energy = 12kWh kg-1), which has a capacity value of 5.67Ah g-1 and a hydrogen content of about 11wt.%. Such fuel cells are called direct borohydride fuel cells (DBFCs). This thesis is directed to studies on SPE-DMFCs and DBFCs
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