If the researchers' vision for a biobased membrane
pans out, this prototype membrane could one day used to conduct ions in a
hydrogen fuel cell. Image courtesy Justin Barone, ARS.
Using Natural-Occurring Products To Build Hydrogen
Fuel Cells By Sharon Durham March 8, 2006
In research aimed at reducing American dependence on petroleum-based
fuels, a group of Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists has found a way to replace
the petroleum used in today's hydrogen fuel cell membranes with naturally
Barone and colleagues in ARS'
Management and Byproduct Utilization Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., have
conducted preliminary studies which suggest the possibility of replacing the
conventional petroleum-based main membrane in hydrogen fuel cells with
Hydrogen fuel cells have received a lot of attention as a possible
energy conversion mechanism. The coming of what's being called a renewable
"hydrogen economy" is being touted as a feasible alternative to current
economic reliance on nonrenewable fossil fuels.
In the hydrogen economy, hydrogen fuel cells would replace internal
combustion engines in vehicles, and hydrogen would replace gasoline. However,
current hydrogen fuel cell technology is heavily dependent on petroleum to make
both the fuel cells and the hydrogen fuel.
In biology, membranes surrounding cells routinely conduct hydrogen
ions through the cell walls. Borrowing from this idea, Barone and his
colleagues have focused their research on bio-based, nonpetroleum membranes
made from naturally occurring products to conduct the hydrogen ions moving in
and out of fuel cells.
Further development of this type of innovative energy-generation
technology would help America move away from the widespread use of petroleum
and would address the need to explore alternative energy sources.
ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.