Re: Fuel cells (was Re: jeff's cyborg cells)

Chuck Kuecker (
Fri, 04 Jun 1999 07:32:15 -0500

At 10:18 PM 6/2/99 -0700, Eugene Leitl wrote:
>The chiefest problem with reforming higher alcanes is a) the surface
>of the reforming catalysator gets mucked up progressively b) it's
>difficult to keep the CO content low (it should be present as
>traces only), and CO poisons the Pt/Pd electrode surface at the
>temperatures used (you're limited by the polymer electrolyt here).

Looks to me that all current fuel cells work only with hydrogen - the carbon bonds, if any, are wasted as CO2 without contributing to the electrical output. Perhaps in the high temperature cell, this energy helps keep the cell hot?

I can see why hydrogen is easy to use - it's just a proton when ionized, and can be exchanged easily to drive current flow. I guess what I am really looking for is some chemistry that can take a more complex and more easily stored/handled hydrocarbon and convert all of the bond energy as combustion does, but use the energy to drive the electron pump. I am not enough of a chemist to even guess if this is possible.

Fuel cells are about 50% efficient, if I recall rightly - so even losing 50% of the bond energy due to reforming a fuel to hydrogen, we get better overall efficiency with the fuel cell. I just get itchy when ANY energy gets thrown away without a chance to do work.

If I recall right, large methane fueled fuel cells were proposed for installation in New York City to generate power - and the waste heat could then be used for process or building heat. Does anyone know if this scheme was actually installed?

Chuck Kuecker