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Techniques developed at AUS labs give clean, efficient energy a boost
A successful collaborative research study led by American University of Sharjah (AUS) has taken a significant step towards finding solutions to some of the global problems facing fuel cells.
Fuel cells, which are a clean, efficient and reliable source of power, have various applications and can be used to operate vehicles while producing electricity. They run on various types of fuel, such as hydrogen, natural gas, ethanol and methanol, and they continuously need to be fueled.
New research from AUS – conducted in collaboration with University of Sharjah, UAE University and the University of Wisconsin – looks at how changing the fuel cells’ membranes can make the cells more efficient and last longer at a lower cost. Research Team Leader and Associate Professor in Chemical Engineering at AUS, Dr. Amani Al-Othman explains the challenge.
“Fuel cell cars run on hydrogen fuel and can be filled from a hydrogen station (like a petrol station). As a result, the car will emit water from its exhaust, as opposed to polluting gases, because of the electro-chemical reaction. However, the problem with current polymer electrolyte fuel cells is that they function at a temperature of 80C because their membranes cannot tolerate higher temperatures. At the same time, this low temperature leads to liquid build-up inside the cell. In the long run, this can limit the fuel cell operation and lead to corrosion. Our research focuses on developing new and less expensive membranes that can sustain higher temperatures of 200 C to maintain operation, which means that water vapor will be produced rather than liquid. This way the fuel cells will last longer, be available at a lower cost and produce clean energy,” Dr. Al-Othman said.
Highlighting the importance of the research, Dr. Al-Othman said, “We used state-of-the-art synthesis techniques developed at AUS laboratories to develop these membranes. The UAE has prioritized seven key areas of research for its strategic roadmap, including energy and health. The successful implementation of the novel fuel cell membranes will contribute to the UAE’s efforts in achieving its energy and sustainability vision.”
Dr. Al-Othman noted that the outcome of this research could have a significant impact on the energy and power generation sector in UAE. Fuel cells currently represent one of the most important technologies facilitating the transition from fossil fuels towards clean energy in transportation in the UAE.
The research was recently published in the prominent International Journal of Hydrogen Energy.
Dr. Al-Othman, who is looking to further test the membranes, added: “The membranes are made up of lower-cost composite materials, and we now need to identify the best combination of low-cost materials to use and test that in a high-temperature hydrogen fuel cell.”
Members of the energy research team are Paul Nancarrow, Associate Professor in Chemical Engineering at AUS; Yehya Amin El Sayed, Professor in Biology, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences at AUS; Dr. Muhammad Tawalbeh from the University of Sharjah; Dr. Abdulrahman Yaqoub Alraeesi from UAE University; Dr. Malek Alkasrawi from the University of Wisconsin; and Ahmad Ibrahim Ka’ki, an AUS alumnus who is currently Environmental Inspector and Acting Head of the Hygiene and Companies Performances Division at Sharjah Municipality.
Students from the AUS College of Engineering are also currently taking part in the research, with their work focusing on developing materials for membranes and energy applications. Student researchers are undergraduate students Hafsah Azfar Khan, Zeina Yasin, Taima Alhazaimeh, Abdallah Al Hajar and Dana Al-Muqbel; graduate students Rana Nauman Javed, Mohammed Al-Murisi and Remston Martis; and alumni Karim El-Ahwal, an engineer at Hatch, and Bassam El-Taher, an engineer at Total.
For more information on the College of Engineering at AUS, please visit www.aus.edu/cen.