Chips, memory and software have all come on in leaps and bounds over the past decade; however, we’re still waiting for mobile power solutions to catch up. Now, a new platinum-free micro-SOFC (solid oxide fuel cells) could change all that; the handiwork of researchers led by Shriram Ramanathan at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), the all-ceramic design makes for more reliable fuel cells, as well as cheaper ones.
Meanwhile, further research showed it was possible to significantly reduce the operating temperatures of the SOFCs, from the more typical 800–1000°C down to just 300–500°C. “If you can realize high-performance solid-oxide fuel cells that operate in the 300–500°C range,” Ramanathan says, “you can use them in transportation vehicles and portable electronics, and with different types of fuels.”
Finally, by switching from pure hydrogen to methane – a switch enabled by the more accommodating temperatures – the fuel side of the equation becomes cheaper, since methane requires less refining. It’s too early to talk runtimes and pricing, but micro-SOFC commercial viability is definitely one step closer.