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April 05, 2006

Other tech: New membrane for more powerful and less expensive fuel cells

the new membrane conducts protons nearly three times as well as the currently used material, significantly improving power density. Also, unlike the current material, the new membrane can be easily molded into patterns to increase its surface area. By increasing the area by up to 60 percent, the researchers have further doubled the power density of a fuel cell. Joseph DeSimone, the UNC-Chapel Hill chemistry and chemical engineering professor who heads the lab where the work was done, thinks they can increase the membrane's surface area 20 to 40 times by using different patterns, increasing the power density proportionately.

Such improvements in power density mean that a much smaller fuel cell could provide adequate power for a vehicle. The material is also easier to work with, which should reduce manufacturing costs. DeSimone says that a clearer idea of potential cost savings from their new material should be available within six months. And he expects that fuel cells using the membrane could be in production within two to three years

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