West Midlands scientists
have created and studied new materials set to make low-carbon energy
technologies like fuel cells cheaper and more efficient to run.
Collaborative research efforts involving the University of Warwick
and University of
Birmingham have paved the
way for improved efficiency in fuel cells to be used in homes, buildings,
construction sites, war zones, or anywhere where isolated forms of power
generation are required.
Many major companies use fuel cell systems and in the U.K., for
example, some are even looking at trialing this technology as a replacement for
Fuel cells convert hydrogen and oxygen into water and in the
process produce electricity, making them an attractive form of low-carbon
However, they operate at very high temperatures and take a
long time to reach and stabilize at these operational temperatures.
By introducing the new materials—known as rare-earth
apatites—into their design, the working temperatures and the time needed to
reach them will be reduced, improving operational aspects of the device and
making it more efficient.
Lower operational temperature also means that they will last
longer and be cheaper to produce.
John Hanna, principal research fellow in the Department of
Physics at the University
of Warwick, said: “Fuel
cells typically operate at temperatures of around 800 to 1,000 degrees, and you
cannot just flick a switch and get power from them immediately.
“However, the conduction properties of these new materials
means that these operational temperatures can be reduced, meaning that higher
efficiencies and cost savings can be achieved.
The facilities and equipment used for the research have been
funded by Birmingham
as part of the Science City Research Alliance Energy Efficiency (AM1) Project.
Part of the research was carried out using Nuclear Magnetic
Resonance (NMR) instruments at the University
of Warwick’s Centre for
This facility is home to the U.K.’s largest solid-state NMR
This technique allows researchers to gain a detailed
understanding of the structure and motion of molecules and atoms within
material frameworks, which will help in the design and creation of new ‘energy
materials’ for fuel cell, hydrogen storage, and battery technologies.
The facility also conducts research into new drug and
pharmaceutical development and can even provide insights into diseases such as Alzheimer’s.