Highly Structured Electrodes for an Environmentally Benign Energy InfrastructureEPA Grant Number: FP916391
Title: Highly Structured Electrodes for an Environmentally Benign Energy Infrastructure
Investigators: Warren, Scott C.
Institution: Cornell University
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: January 1, 2004 through December 31, 2006
Project Amount: $111,344
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2004) RFA Text | Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Engineering and Environmental Chemistry , Fellowship - Environmental Chemistry and Environmental Material Science
Over the last century, heavy reliance on fossil fuels has led to global warming, environmental degradation, and human health problems. Hydrogen, as well as hydrogen-rich fuels, may offer a partial solution to these problems. To convert these fuels into electricity, cheap, efficient, and durable proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells must be developed. PEM fuel cells that meet these basic requirements currently do not exist. To make fuel cells commercially viable, radically different designs and materials must be created and developed because the current designs have been optimized. The objective of this research is to develop new materials that will lower the cost and increase the efficiency and durability of fuel cell electrodes.
The electrodes I will make are based on the templating of an aluminosilicate sol-gel solution by diblock copolymers. In these systems, the sol-gel interacts favorably with only one block of the copolymer, leading to the formation of an aluminosilicate with regularly ordered pores. Heating the aluminosilicate-copolymer composite in air burns off the copolymer, leaving a highly porous aluminosilicate. To operate as a fuel cell electrode, the material must contain a catalyst for breaking down the fuel, in addition to being proton and electron conducting. To incorporate a catalyst, I will synthesize soluble organometallic molecules that will be mixed with the sol-gel solution and polymer. When the aluminosilicate is heated, the organometallic precursor will be converted into a nanoparticle catalyst within the porous aluminosilicate network. I will explore a variety of ways to incorporate catalysts into the templated system, including using an ABC triblock copolymer. In this way, an entire phase of the material could be made of catalyst. If an entire phase of the material is made of catalyst, then the material would be electrically conductive. Alternatively, the pores could be backfilled with an electron conducting material, such as carbon black. To incorporate proton conductivity, a replacement for the aluminosilicate might be found. For example, solid acids present intriguing possibilities. Using this new approach to fuel cell electrodes, I hope to develop materials that will be cheaper, more efficient, and more durable than current systems. This may lead to commercial viability and widespread implementation of fuel cells.