Oxygen-powered fuel cell could charge mobile phones

A fuel cell that uses oxygen from the air could power portable devices such as mobile phones. Because the cell continues to produce energy as long as fuel is available, it is particularly effective when recharging is not possible.

Conventional fuel cells are ubiquitous. They power electric cars on today’s roads and were part of the computers used in the 1969 Apollo moon landing. These fuel cells lose voltage as they are used and eventually stop working because alcohol molecules cross over the membrane and react with oxygen.

Now, a research team from INRS (Institut national de la recherche scientifique) led by Professor Mohamed Mohamedi has developed a green fuel cell without a membrane, announced a statement.

The solution costs less and requires fewer steps to manufacture, but it fails to address a key challenge. “When the membrane is removed, the methanol or ethanol reacts with the oxygen, just like in conventional fuel cells. To prevent voltage drops, we had to develop selective electrodes in the cathode compartment,” explains Professor Mohamedi.

“These electrodes, designed by doctoral student Juan Carlos Abrego-Martinez, remain inactive in the presence of alcohol molecules but are sensitive to the oxygen that generates electricity.”

A further advantage of the membraneless fuel cell is that ut uses oxygen from the air around it.

The team expects the fuel cell to power portable electronics such as mobile phones and microsystems such as air pollution sensors. Unlike conventional batteries that store electricity and must be recharged, fuel cells continue to produce energy as long as fuel is available.

“This energy supply method is particularly effective when recharging is not possible. Imagine being in the middle of the desert, without electricity. You could recharge your mobile phone using a small capsule of ethanol that you connect to the device,” says Professor Mohamedi.

Image credit: Yura Fresh via Unsplash


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