Hydrogen Can Power Nano Devices

Thursday, October 14, 2010 @ 09:10 AM gHale

Nanostructure devices will soon perform specialized jobs in everything from electronics to medicine. But these devices still need an unconventional way to power them.
A new battery is now under development called the catalothermionic generator, said Eduard Karpov, University of Illinois at Chicago assistant professor of civil and materials engineering, who just received a three-year, $217,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to create the device.
It will generate power on a flat planar surface, just like in a photovoltaic or solar cell, but instead of sunlight being the energy source, hydrogen oxidation will power the electron flow.
Unlike conventional hydrogen fuel cell technology around for more than a century, this new approach, called “chemovoltaics,” harnesses energy from hydrogen oxidation taking place on a film-like catalytic metal surface. Unlike fuel cells, the chemovoltaic device can be very small and flat and does not release or absorb heat, allowing it to run at much cooler temperatures. But like fuel cells, its energy-production byproduct is only water.
“This device is the child of the nanotechnology era,” Karpov said. “It consists of nano-thickness layers of catalytic material on top of semiconductor substrates.
“We know the basic physics, but utilizing it for an energy application is a new idea,” he said.
Karpov and his UIC laboratory team will test variations of these nano-sized devices to see how they can generate maximum power.
“Our main task is to show that this phenomenon, in principle, can lead to a commercially viable technology that has the potential to compete with fuel cells,” he said.

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