Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Bringing down the cost of microbial fuel cells

Date:
June 23, 2012
Source:
University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee
Summary:
A new catalyst material could dramatically reduce the cost of producing microbial fuel cells.

Zhen (Jason) He, assistant professor of mechanical engineering (left), and Junhong Chen, professor of mechanical engineering, display a strip of carbon that contains the novel nanorod catalyst material they developed for microbial fuel cells.
Credit: Photo by Troye Fox

Engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) have identified a catalyst that provides the same level of efficiency in microbial fuel cells (MFCs) as the currently used platinum catalyst, but at 5% of the cost.

Since more than 60% of the investment in making microbial fuel cells is the cost of platinum, the discovery may lead to much more affordable energy conversion and storage devices.

The material -- nitrogen-enriched iron-carbon nanorods -- also has the potential to replace the platinum catalyst used in hydrogen-producing microbial electrolysis cells (MECs), which use organic matter to generate a possible alternative to fossil fuels.

"Fuel cells are capable of directly converting fuel into electricity," says UWM Professor Junhong Chen, who created the nanorods and is testing them with Assistant Professor Zhen (Jason) He. "With fuel cells, electrical power from renewable energy sources can be delivered where and when required, cleanly, efficiently and sustainably."

The scientists also found that the nanorod catalyst outperformed a graphene-based alternative being developed elsewhere. In fact, the pair tested the material against two other contenders to replace platinum and found the nanorods' performance consistently superior over a six-month period.

The nanorods have been proved stable and are scalable, says Chen, but more investigation is needed to determine how easily they can be mass-produced. More study is also required to determine the exact interaction responsible for the nanorods' performance.

The work was published in March in the journal Advanced Materials.

The right recipe

MFCs generate electricity while removing organic contaminants from wastewater. On the anode electrode of an MFC, colonies of bacteria feed on organic matter, releasing electrons that create a current as they break down the waste.

On the cathode side, the most important reaction in MFCs is the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR). Platinum speeds this slow reaction, increasing efficiency of the cell, but it is expensive.

Microbial electrolysis cells (MECs) are related to MFCs. However, instead of electricity, MECs produce hydrogen. In addition to harnessing microorganisms at the anode, MECS also use decomposition of organic matter and platinum in a catalytic process at their cathodes.

Chen and He's nanorods incorporate the best characteristics of other reactive materials, with nitrogen attached to the surface of the carbon rod and a core of iron carbide. Nitrogen's effectiveness at improving the carbon catalyst is already well known. Iron carbide, also known for its catalytic capabilities, interacts with the carbon on the rod surface, providing "communication" with the core. Also, the material's unique structure is optimal for electron transport, which is necessary for ORR.

When the nanorods were tested for potential use in MECs, the material did a better job than the graphene-based catalyst material, but it was still not as efficient as platinum.

"But it shows that there could be more diverse applications for this material, compared to graphene," says He. "And it gave us clues for why the nanorods performed differently in MECs."

Research with MECs was published in June in the journal Nano Energy.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. The original article was written by Laura L. Hunt. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. Zhenhai Wen, Suqin Ci, Fei Zhang, Xinliang Feng, Shumao Cui, Shun Mao, Shenglian Luo, Zhen He, Junhong Chen. Nitrogen-Enriched Core-Shell Structured Fe/Fe3C-C Nanorods as Advanced Electrocatalysts for Oxygen Reduction Reaction (Adv. Mater. 11/2012). Advanced Materials, 2012; 24 (11): 1398 DOI: 10.1002/adma.201290061
  2. Li Xiao, Zhenhai Wen, Suqin Ci, Junhong Chen, Zhen He. Carbon/iron-based nanorod catalysts for hydrogen production in microbial electrolysis cells. Nano Energy, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.nanoen.2012.06.002

Cite This Page:

University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. "Bringing down the cost of microbial fuel cells." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 June 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120623094430.htm>.
University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. (2012, June 23). Bringing down the cost of microbial fuel cells. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120623094430.htm
University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. "Bringing down the cost of microbial fuel cells." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120623094430.htm (accessed August 29, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Friday, August 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) State health officials say testing has confirmed the presence of a killer amoeba in a water system serving three St. John the Baptist Parish towns. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Have Figured Out Why Rocks Move In Death Valley

Scientists Have Figured Out Why Rocks Move In Death Valley

Newsy (Aug. 28, 2014) The mystery of the moving rocks in Death Valley, California, has finally been solved. Scientists are pointing to a combo of water, ice and wind. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Big Waves, Minor Flooding from Hurricane

Big Waves, Minor Flooding from Hurricane

AP (Aug. 27, 2014) Thundering surf spawned by Hurricane Marie pounded the Southern California coast Wednesday, causing minor flooding in a low-lying beach town. High surf warnings were posted for Los Angeles County south through Orange County. (Aug. 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Calif. Quake Underscores Need for Early Warning

Calif. Quake Underscores Need for Early Warning

AP (Aug. 26, 2014) Researchers at UC Berkeley are testing a prototype of an earthquake early warning system that California is pursuing years after places like Mexico and Japan already have them up and running. (August 26) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins