Polymer for Heat-Tolerant Fuel Cell Membranes

Technology #16145

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Researchers
Kenneth B. Wagener
Taylor W. Gaines
Michael Bell
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Lenny Terry
Assistant Director 352-392-8929

Sulfonated Polyethylene Maintains Efficiency in Temperatures above 176 degrees Fahrenheit

This polymer, polyethylene substituted with regularly spaced sulfonic acid groups, is a promising material for use in the fuel cells that power cars, phones, laptops, and spacecraft. Fuel cells are electrochemical energy conversion devices that transform chemical energy trapped in various fuels, such as sugarcane, into useable electricity. A traditional hydrogen fuel cell, for example, converts hydrogen and oxygen into water and electricity. The electricity produced by fuel cells can power a wide range of consumer and industrial products, including vehicles and portable electronics. The United States government has invested more than one billion dollars in fuel cell research and development. Until now, the tendency for fuel cells to become less efficient at higher temperatures has prevented the technology from reaching its full potential. Researchers at the University of Florida have addressed this problem by developing a heat-tolerant polymer that functions well in temperature above 176 degrees Fahrenheit (80 degrees Celsius). In 2010, fuel cell industry revenues exceeded $750 million. This polymer has the potential to substantially increase the size of the market.

Application

Sulfonated polyethylene polymer for use in fuel cells that maintain high-level efficiency at temperatures above 176 degrees Fahrenheit

Advantages

  • Features a durable design, ensuring greater fuel cell efficiency at higher temperatures
  • Compatible with available manufacturing equipment, enhancing versatility
  • Removes a barrier to widespread adoption of fuel cell-powered vehicles, reducing dependence on gasoline

Technology

University of Florida researchers have created a sulfonated polyethylene polymer that, when incorporated into fuel cells, enables greater efficiency at temperatures above 176 degrees Fahrenheit (80 degrees Celsius). The material has many promising applications, including widespread use in automotive fuel cell membranes. The researchers prepared the polymer by suspending a sulfonated ester polyethylene in a polar aprotic non-solvent to which they added a strong base that saponifies the esters.