$10.75M grant aids next-gen fuel cell development Fuel cells could someday power numerous devices – automobiles and mass transit systems, buildings, and virtually any type of portable electronic device. Unlike batteries, which eventually run out of power (and thus need to be recharged), a fuel cell will continue to generate electrical energy as long as it has a fuel – usually hydrogen – and oxygen or some other oxidant necessary for the complete electrochemical reaction. Fuel cells are significantly more efficient than internal combustion engines, but one of their main drawbacks is cost: Most current fuel cells employ acid-based electrolytes, meaning their activity is dependent on catalysts made from expensive precious metals such as platinum. Héctor Abruña, the Émile M. Chamot Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and director of the Energy Materials Center at Cornell (EMC2), in collaboration with other faculty members, has been exploring electrocatalysis in alkaline (non-acidic) media, which could result in high-efficiency and high-performance fuel cells at a greatly reduced cost. To further that effort, Abruña will lead the recently funded DOE Center for Alkaline-Based Energy Solutions (CABES), part of the Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) program supported by the U.S. Department of Energy. CABES, dedicated to the development of advanced fuel cell technologies in alkaline media, has been awarded a four-year,$10.75 million grant from the DOE Office of Science; the project officially begins Aug. 1.

“We’re, of course, very excited … we’re looking to change the fuel cell paradigm,” Abruña said. The CABES team includes physicists, chemists, engineers and materials scientist from Cornell as well as five other universities and two national laboratories.

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