Sunday, May 27, 2012

Methanol: FC fuel with promise


Methanol is gaining acceptance as a fuel for the direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) –  but is also becoming increasingly popular as a source of hydrogen for systems based on proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFC).

 Methanol is a convenient liquid fuel, easily handled and easily transported, eliminating many of the difficulties associated with the provision of compressed gases such as hydrogen where infrastructure is lacking. It is readily available at consistent quality as a mass-produced commodity, and in cost-per-unit-of-energy terms compares favorably with gasoline and diesel. Methanol is inherently less prone to ignition and burns more slowly than gasoline and, while it is toxic if ingested, with sensible precautions it is non-hazardous. It is stable, has low volatility, and remains liquid over a broad temperature range, covering all conditions in which fuel cells operate. Setting aside the means of production for the moment, as a substance methanol is a relatively environmentally benign liquid fuel: it mixes with water and quickly biodegrades to harmless products, with none of the severe, long-term soil and water contamination associated with petroleum spills.

Methanol can be used to produce efficient power with fuel cells. Similar to most of the hydrogen used today, methanol is currently fossil fuel based, but the future for both fuels is to become carbon neutral and the technology exists to do this. Having the option to use a variety of fuels such as these can only enhance the diversity and flexibility of fuel cells as a low-carbon energy solution.

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