Direct Methanol Fuel Cells for Increased Energy Capacity in Laptops and Other Mobile Electronics

Technology #14185

Invention

The University of Florida is seeking companies interested in commercializing direct methanol fuel cells for greater energy storage capacity in portable electronics, including laptops. The direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs) are two to three times smaller than available rechargeable batteries for 24-hour operation. Methanol is an inexpensive, widely available fuel that can be extracted from both natural gas and renewable plant materials, such as wood. Though long-lasting, existing DMFCs are the size of a briefcase and require bulky fans, exit condensers and other water management components to function properly. Researchers have created fuel cells that contain microscale passages, eliminating the need for the large water management components and allowing operation at high ambient temperature. By altering the structure of traditional DMFCs, researchers have delivered the significant size reduction that industry leaders have eagerly anticipated for more than two decades. These researchers have also developed a low-cost method for monitoring methanol concentration within DMFCs. The market for DMFCs is expected to grow 45 percent annually until 2016, when revenue will reach approximately $109 million a year. The breakthrough water drag prevention technology may lead to even faster market growth.

Application

Direct Methanol Fuel Cells that are small enough to replace rechargeable batteries in consumer electronics and other small, mobile devices

Advantages

  • Maintains water balance during fuel cell operation, dramatically increasing operational efficiency by negating the need for traditional water recapturing techniques
  • Enables sensorless fuel concentration monitoring, saving costs associated with expensive sensors
  • Eliminates physical space occupied by water recapture components and fuel sensors, reducing device bulkiness
  • Suitable for any long-duration application requiring low weight and volume combined with moderate average power, such as gaming laptop computers and small UAVs, providing a competitive advantage

Technology

Direct methanol fuel cells continuously require water to react with the methanol fuel at the anode side of the cell; it is generally obtained from the water produced on the cathode side. Until now, water management in DMFCs has required a bulky system of fans, exit condensers and other components for recapturing evaporated water from the exiting cathode air stream.Researchers have created a fuel cell with an innovative structure that forces water to flow directly from the cathode into the anode stream. Microscale passages within the DMFC reroute water and effectively prevent water losses to the air using much less space. Optimal water balance during fuel cell operation is achieved with innovative algorithms that adjust fuel and oxidizer injection rates in response to power load demands. As a result, no excess water is generated. These researchers also developed an inexpensive method for measuring fuel concentration. It eliminates the need for expensive in-place fuel sensors and can collect information about temperature, fuel-level, stack currents, fan speed and fuel-injection pump output rates through the use of a computer algorithm.



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