Professor T S Zhao and his team at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) have focused their research on finding alternatives to fossil fuels in the generation of electricity. Their work includes the development of Direct Alcohol Fuel Cells (DAFC) and research into hydrogen technology.
Research Grants Council funding has supported the successful development of a number of initiatives in this area.
DAFCs convert the chemical energy of liquid methanol or ethanol directly to electricity. This offers high efficiency and low emissions in a simple and compact design that is regarded as a competitive and viable technology. It has the potential to replace conventional batteries used in portable electronic devices. In the long run, these DAFCs may also evolve as competitive candidates to replace internal combustion engines in cars. Modelling, designing, fabricating and running diagnostic tests on DAFCs are continuing in Professor Zhao's lab at the HKUST. Many of his fundamental studies have provided important insights in the understanding of fuel cell mechanisms and help to improve fuel cell performance.
Professor Zhao says one of the hurdles faced in attempting to commercialise DAFC technology revolves around fuel crossover issues.
"For years researchers have been on a quest to drop fuel crossover without sacrificing proton conductivity. We can now show that by using Pd (palladium) and Pd alloys deposited membrane in a DMFC (Direct Methanol Fuel Cell) and by innovatively designing the membrane electrolyte assembly, we can considerably reduce fuel crossover rates and boost the power density of the cell."
Professor Zhao's group recently developed a passively operated DMFC that demonstrated a maximum power density that is the highest performance recorded in open literature. This type of fuel cell was applied to power a toy car that can run continuously for about 20 hours.