One of the problems that have been holding back fuel cell technology from wide scale adoption has been the cost -- fuel cells harness electricity created when two materials are mixed together in the presence of a chemical catalyst, which so far has been something expensive like a platinum alloy.
Researchers at Brigham Young University think they have a better idea -- use cheap, widely available weed killer as a catalyst.
Gerald Watt, a professor at BYU (and direct decendent of James Watt, the inventor of the steam engine), announced the development of a new kind of fuel cell that creates electricity from glucose and other sugars using a common weed killer as the catalyst.
Their paper will be published in the October issue of the Journal of The Electrochemical Society. Since writing the paper, Watt's team has already doubled the power performance of their cell.
I'm not super excited about the idea of having to dump bottles of pesticides in my (future) car, but it is a good reminder that we haven't even begun to scratch the surface of what's possible with fuel cell and other renewable technologies. Today we figured out how to run a fuel cell with pesticides; hopefully tomorrow we'll find out how to do it with something more benign.
Mr. Watt's discovery is all the more important because the carbohydrate-based fuel cells his team is working on are powered by plant-derived fuelstocks, not liquid hydrogen, which can be more difficult and expensive to store and transport. The world needs cheap fuel cells.
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