Inspired by the humble cactus, a new type of membrane has the potential to significantly boost the performance of fuel cells and transform the electric vehicle industry.
The membrane, developed by scientists from CSIRO and Hanyang University in Korea, was described today in the journal Nature . The paper shows that in hot conditions the membrane, which features a water repellent skin, can improve the efficiency of fuel cells by a factor of four.
According to CSIRO researcher and co-author Dr Aaron Thornton, the skin works in a similar way to a cactus plant, which thrives by retaining water in harsh and arid environments.
“Fuel cells, like the ones used in electric vehicles, generate energy by mixing together simple gases, like hydrogen and oxygen. However, in order to maintain performance, proton exchange membrane fuel cells – or PEMFCs – need to stay constantly hydrated,” Dr Thornton said.
“At the moment this is achieved by placing the cells alongside a radiator, water reservoir and a humidifier. The downside is that when used in a vehicle, these occupy a large amount of space and consume significant power,” he said.
According to CSIRO researcher and co-author Dr Cara Doherty, the team’s new cactus-inspired solution offers an alternative