Fuel cells generally run on hydrogen, which can be hard to control and is actually not safe. So a team of engineers at the University of Utah has developed an alternative that uses, JP-8, a jet fuel used by American warplanes that are operating in extreme climates such as the extreme temperatures found in deserts or the sub-zero temperatures encountered in arctic regions, and one of the safest fuels used in military applications.
The new fuel cells use enzymes to produce electricity without needing to ignite the fuel. The cells operate at room temperatures, even when there are impurities in the mix. That’s far more useful, because jet fuel often contain sulfur-heavy compounds like kerosene, which can rapidly break down the catalysts used in conventional fuel cells. Instead, the new fuel cells use a cascade of catalysts—alkane monooxygenase and alcohol oxidase—that can operate at room temperature and can tolerate sulfur. Hexane and Octane , which are chemically comparable to JP-8 also were tested as fuels and the results were same. Researchers also found that addition of sulfur did not affect the power production in the enzymatic fuel cell as it did in a conventional metal-catalyst device.
The technology should find applications in juicing up all our mobile devices. The fuel cells also now serve as power for off-grid power systems, or to power fuel-cell vehicles such as prototype hydrogen-powered cars.
Shelley Minteer, a professor of materials science at Utah University said that the most significant part in this research is the ability to incorporate a Jet Propellant-8 directly in a fuel cell without having to remove sulfur impurities or operate at very high temperature. However, no details regarding the release and commercialization of this new fuel device are available.
The research was sponsored by Northrop Grumman and the National Science Foundation working through the University of Utah’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center and the work is published in the Journal ACS Catalysis.