University of Maryland Research Could Have Major Impact on Future Cars

The Chevrolet Volt is currently the most popular electric car equipped with a range extending system. This system features an additional gasoline powered internal combustion engine whose purpose is not to directly send the power to the wheels but to charge the electric batteries that power the electric motor.

However, considering its efficiency, the internal combustion engine is still a major problem according to pollution standard and pretty far from what we all want for the future, zero emissions driving. A much better solution that can also become reality much faster is the hydrogen fuel cell powertrain, most of the world’s largest carmakers unveiled a car that is powered by a powertrain like this. Unfortunately, most were concept cars and large scale production versions are still a dream, considering the high costs involved by this technology.

Many teams of researchers all around the world are currently trying to find a way to make this technology more accessible and an important step was made by the University of Maryland Energy Research Center. According to them, they figured out a way to make this technology affordable by inventing a fuel cell system based on…fossil fuel. While this might seem a little odd, the technology isn’t new, but it was significantly improved by the American researchers and adapted for vehicle use.

The new fuel cell device is called solid oxide fuel cell and it uses a solid ceramic electrolyte to produce electricity more efficient through chemical reactions and not by burning fossil fuel like gasoline, diesel or liquefied petroleum gas.

So far, this technology was only used in industrial activities, the high temperatures reached during the process (around 900 degrees Celsius) making it unsuitable for vehicles. But the Maryland researchers developed new materials and a new structure for the fuel cell device that makes it 10 times more compact than current models. Also, thanks to these materials, lab tests showed the temperatures reached on automobiles are almost three times lower. Another major advantage of improving the cooling technology is that it will also make the entire fuel cell device a lot cheaper to build.

The research currently conducted by the University of Maryland is part of a large program started by the United States’ Department of Energy several years ago and whose purpose is to replace the conventional high polluting electric energy sources with more efficient solutions as soon as possible. According to the first estimations, is this technology will be adapted for vehicles, it will reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by as much as 85 percent. These innovations also made specialists say that fuel cell powered cars are the best short term solutions for getting rid of our addiction to fossil fuel.

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