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July 30, 2004 7:42 AM   Subscribe

Fuel Cell Breakthrough?
The University of Houston claims to have achieved a breakthrough in thin film solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs). "Imagine a power source so small, yet so efficient, that it could make cumbersome power plants virtually obsolete" Utter marketing hype, or are they really onto something?
posted by Irontom (6 comments total)
A compact, efficient fuel cell would be amazing. It would open up the possibilities for all kinds of green energy to replace all the petroleum-based stuff we're wasting at the moment.

But this sounds like a lot of theory with no experimental confirmation.
posted by destro at 8:25 AM on July 30, 2004

This article was posted a while ago, I think on MeFi but maybe I saw it somewhere else.

The first problem I see is that these things run "cool" at 450-500 degrees celsius...

Call me crazy, but I don't want that kinda heat in my laptop.. Maybe I don't know enough about fuel cells though.. maybe that 500 degrees C won't be spreading too far outside of the battery/cell? I dunno.
posted by twiggy at 8:39 AM on July 30, 2004

The high operating temperature of SOFCs make them a pretty poor choice for intermittent use applications like cars or laptops. Operating temperature requirements are also an issue for proton-exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells, which are the current choice for fuel cell vehicles, and those run at about 100 C.

Solid Oxide cells have a lot more promise for stationary applications. Fuel cells don't suffer as badly from scale issues as other power cycles (gas turbines, steam cycles, etc.), so they could be well suited for installation in homes. It would reduce losses in power transmission, and the waste heat from the fuel cell stack could be used for heating.
posted by yarmond at 1:38 PM on July 30, 2004

Could SOFCs work for ships too? Would they scale up enough to propel a 10,000-ton ship at 30 knots, for example? And are they air-independent? Would they work inside a submarine, in other words?
posted by alumshubby at 3:33 PM on July 30, 2004

This post needs to get together with this one about giving back to the grid.

I liked this bit "approximately two cans' worth of soda would produce more than five kilowatts, enough to power a typical household". Fuel cells will, indeed, one day revolutionize our lives but that day is still a ways off. I hope this is the first real step towards that future.

It would help us get off OPEC's teat and that would be a damned fine thing.
posted by fenriq at 4:12 PM on July 30, 2004

Extraordinarily high temperatures can be created in very ordinary circumstances, such a bubbles collapsing in on themselves. But those high temperatures are so limited in area as to be unnoticeable. Ordinary shrimp can create tiny bubbles that only last a fraction of a second, but may have internal temperatures of tens of thousands of degrees.

I just mention this to put into a perspective "hot" and "cold" fuel cells.

But on the subject, the very best minds in petroleum and energy have long been persuaded that the science is there for fuel cells--all that remains in the technological development. And with that, the value of petroleum could drop considerably. This is probably the reason why most of the Gulf states are spending *many* billions of dollars, right now, to diversify their economies *away* from petroleum.
Their biggest initiatives are to create travel hubs and tourism destinations, though I will note that they have already overbuilt for both of these programs.
posted by kablam at 6:55 PM on July 30, 2004

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