Research Component: Microfluidic-based Fuel Cells and Optimization
The future of portable electronics requires efficient and small power sources to operate them. The focus of this project is to develop microfluidic direct methanol fuel cells (?DMFCs) as well as those utilizing hydrogen and formic acid. The use of these fuels entails one of the most promising mobile technologies by which such power can be provided. Fuel cells can be considered chemical reactors designed to convert chemical reactant streams into electrical energy and chemical products. Dr. Frank A. Gomez and his group have developed several novel prototypes built on a layer-by-layer (LBL) assembly and chip platform. We have concentrated on both passive and active types of fuel cells utilizing the proton exchange membranes (PEMs) Nafion 117 and 212. Our focus has been on optimizing the design of the DMFC which has involved the type of membrane to use, the catalyst loading, the mechanism of catalyst loading onto the membrane, to hot press or not the catalyst, and variations in the microfluidic design. Current work is focused on optimization and maximizing the efficiency of the microchips as well as in developing stacked assemblies. The testing of the fuel cells is in collaboration with Dr. David Blekhman and his students. A major component of the studies involves computation and modeling with Dr. Arturo Pacheco-Vega and his students. Numerical simulations of single-phase and two-phase models of a ?DMFC have been performed. The focus here is on the parametric analysis of a single channel of the system, for specific sets of operating conditions, in order to map the dependence of the cell performance with respect to the geometrical parameters. The project is very interdisciplinary and involves students from a myriad of disciplines including chemistry, biochemistry, mechanical engineering, and physics.