Fuel-cell alternatives to gasoline

Mars Sojourner Rover Model

Not only is gasoline polluting our cities and environment, gas prices are destroying the budgets of millions of drivers. The best thing to come from high gas prices is the innovations of scientists and entrepreneurs. Hybrid vehicles are gaining popularity but still have the drawback of burning fuel when not being operated by battery. One University of Massachusetts chemistry professor is developing a technology that may put our gasoline problems behind us. Stuart Licht is behind the process of using high density fuel cells to store more energy by volume than traditional liquid petrol.

Licht’s group is studying the use of vanadium boride to create high density fuel cells that may be able to store three times the energy of a standard liter of gasoline. Though in theory, his fuel cells could store 27 kilowatt hours per litre compared to about 10 kilowatt hours for each liter of gas.  The actual efficiency is much lower in both the vanadium boride fuel cell and in a standard liter of traditional gasoline. In addition, consumers would need to replace the electrodes as they become discharged. The old electrodes could then be recharged and reused at a later time.
Other scientists believe that while Licht’s developments are interesting, there are more effective solutions. Lithium-air and aluminum-air cells may provide better efficiency and a higher density than the vanadium boride fuel cells. Aluminum is already a resource that we are familiar with and have a standard for recovery.

Many advanced techniques of fuel cell technology are currently being used by the military and NASA. Mars Rovers, currently utilize lithium cells and have shown that they can last years without being replaced.  The lithium cells being used in space and by the military are not yet to the point of current developments of lithium-air cells, but progress is being made.

No matter what the opinions are on which materials to produce these fuel cells, it is clear that better technology for storing energy and turning away from traditional oil sources, is in our future.  Demand sparks research and innovation, and gasoline can only control our world for so long.

Links and Sources:
RSC Publishing
Stuart Licht
Lithium-air batteries
Aluminum-air battery experiment

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