PolyFuel membrane hits fuel cell durability mark

PolyFuel says its direct methanol fuel cell membrane has hit the 5,000 hour durability mark.

A California company has reached an important mark in development of a critical component for direct methanol fuel cells, it said Tuesday.

Direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs) work by generating electricity when methanol mixed with water reacts with air through a thin sheet of plastic called a membrane. PolyFuel Inc. is a leading developer of membranes and said its latest prototype has passed the 5,000-hour mark in durability testing.

"Fuel cell durability is one of the key issues that fuel-cell developers always struggle with," said Jim Balcom, president and CEO of PolyFuel, in a telephone interview. "It's an important milestone to be able to demonstrate 5,000 hours."

The level is important because it means the membrane is useful for commercial DMFCs as it has a lifetime equivalent or greater than many lithium ion batteries.

"The fuel cell industry is young, there are no commercial cells, and one of the big tests is durability" said Balcom. "Many fail after 2,000 or 3,000 hours."

Many major consumer electronics manufacturers are developing DMFCs at present because they hold the potential to become an all-day power source for portable gadgets. Engineers envisage future power cells that can provide power for long periods of time and that can be recharged with a simple refill of methanol, and are currently working to overcome a number of issues blocking their commercialization.

Several regulatory hurdles need to be passed before DMFCs can be legally carried on board aircraft and until that's possible many companies are holding off on putting devices on the market.

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