The system cleans up the air and improves fuel cell viability.
Researchers from the University of Delaware have been developing improved versions of hydroxide exchange membrane fuel cells for cars. These cells, if they could reach commercial viability, would be an excellent replacement for fossil fuels, as their fuel is plentiful and carbon neutral. They hit a bit of a snag, though: HEM cells need to “breathe” in order to reach their optimum efficiency, and the amount of carbon dioxide in the air around roads makes that difficult. However, as the researchers discovered, this snag may actually prove to be a major breakthrough in environmental science.
The team, led by Professor Yushan Yan, realized that the reason their HEM cells were being slowed by CO2 was that they were capturing and holding CO2 from the air. In other words, the very presence of the cell has a cleaning effect on the air around it.
“Once we dug into the mechanism, we realized the fuel cells were capturing just about every bit of carbon dioxide that came into them, and they were really good at separating it to the other side,” said Brian Setzler, assistant professor for research in chemical and biomolecular engineering, said in the study written by the research team.
By utilizing a sort of intentional short-circuiting process, the team discovered that the filter could capture large amounts of CO2, then spit it all into a separate device for containment. The original device was intended for usage in a car, but theoretically, it could be scaled for all kinds of air-scrubbing applications, including airplane cabins and large buildings.