More Durable Fuel Cells For Hydrogen Electric Car

Take a ride on the University of Delaware’s (UDFuel Cell bus, and you see that fuel cells can power vehicles in an eco-friendly way. In just the last two years, Toyota, BMW and Honda have released vehicles that run on fuel cells, and carmakers such as GM, BMW and VW are working on prototypes.  If their power sources lasted longer and cost less, fuel cell vehicles could go mainstream faster. Now, a team of engineers at UD has developed a technology that could make fuel cells cheaper and more durable.

Hydrogen-powered fuel cells are a green alternative to internal combustion engines because they produce power through electrochemical reactions, leaving no pollution behind. Materials called catalysts spur these electrochemical reactions. Platinum is the most common catalyst in the type of fuel cells used in vehicles. However, platinum is expensive — as anyone who’s shopped for jewelry knows. The metal costs around $30,000 per kilogram. Instead, the UD team made a catalyst of tungsten carbide, which goes for around $150 per kilogram. They produced tungsten carbide nanoparticles in a novel way, much smaller and more scalable than previous methods.

The material is typically made at very high temperatures, about 1,500 Celsius, and at these temperatures, it grows big and has little surface area for chemistry to take place on,” explains Vlachos, professor at the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation (UD). “Our approach is one of the first to make nanoscale material of high surface area that can be commercially relevant for catalysis.”

The researchers made tungsten carbide nanoparticles using a series of steps including hydrothermal treatment, separation, reduction, carburization and more. The results are described in a paper published in Nature Communications.


Stretchable Electronics Are The Future Of Mobile Phones

According to the University of Delaware‘s Professor Bingqing Wei, stretchable electronics are the future of mobile electronics, leading giants such as IBM, Sony and Nokia to incorporate the technology into their products.
Beyond traditional electronics, potential stretchable applications include biomedical, wearable, portable and sensory devices, such as cyber skin for robotic devices and implantable electronics. All established classes of high-performance electronics exploit single-crystal inorganic materials, such as silicon or gallium arsenide, in forms (i.e., semiconductor wafers) that are fundamentally rigid and planar. The human body is, by contrast, soft and curvilinear. This mismatch in properties hinders the development of devices capable of intimate, conformal integration with biological tissues, for applications ranging from basic measurement of electrophysiological signals, to delivery of advanced therapies, to establishment of human-machine interfaces. One envisioned solution involves the use of organic electronic materials, whose flexible properties have generated interest in them for potential use in paper-like displays, solar cell, and other types of consumer electronic devices.

Advances in soft and stretchable substrates and elastomeric materials have given rise to an entirely new field,” says Wei, a mechanical engineering professor at UD.
But even if scientists can engineer stretchable electronics — what about their energy source?
Rechargeable and stretchable energy storage devices, also known as supercapacitors, are urgently needed to complement advances currently being made in flexible electronics,” explains Wei.

A Computer Chip That Can Assemble Itself

Eric Furst is intent on advancing the science of the super-small, and not even Earth’s gravity can hold him back. From his office in University of Delaware’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Furst has directed astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in some of the first nanoscience experiments in space. Furst’s focus is colloids — otherwise known as emulsions or suspensions — materials that are part solid and part liquid. You know them as paint, glue, egg whites, gels, milk, even blood. He is exploring colloids at the nanoscale to reveal their physics. Ultimately, his goal is to identify how nano-“building blocks” of various shapes and chemistries can be directed to “self-assemble” into specific structures with desired functions. Such “smart materials” could endow a robot, for example, with the dexterity to be able to pick up an item as fragile as an egg.

With the basic principles of directed self-assembly decoded on the ISS, his team is creating materials from more complex nano-building blocks — doublets he calls “smashed spheres,” and titania ellipsoids, shaped like rice, but 10,000 times smaller. With these infinitesimal components, Furst’s lab already has created novel functional nanomaterials for use in optical communication systems and as thermal coatings, with the support of the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.
The sky’s the limit!” Furst says.