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Posted on April 5, 2011 by  & 

Shining a light on research

As oil supplies dwindle and petroleum-based fuels become more expensive, the world is looking to science to provide the alternatives.
Similarly the introduction of carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes makes the development of alternate technologies for stationary power more economically viable.
Monash is involved in two promising areas of science research that could deliver low cost, no-emission alternatives for our future fuel and energy needs.
Both are being developed under the leadership of Federation Fellow Professor Doug MacFarlane, chief investigator with the Australian Centre for Electromaterials Science, a multi-disciplinary research centre of excellence based at Monash with links to the CSIRO, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, the Victorian government and industry partners.
Both involve conductive plastics, similar to the polymers used in bank notes, creating the possibility of low cost fuel cells and solar cells. IDTechEx notes that Daimler AG is a leader in putting its fuel cells in cars and DLR German Aerospace Center and Intelligent Energy have fuel cell work in aircraft and on road vehicles of several types. Tata Motors Europe backs the alternative third generation range extender in the form of mini turbines in its Jaguar supercar project however. Asola is expert in the future of solar for cars and Callender Designs and Kopf Solarschiff use it on next generation boats while Michigan State University and ETH Zurich have solar aircraft.
The fuel cell breakthrough makes it possible to replace platinum, which acts as the catalyst between hydrogen and oxygen in current fuel cell technology.
"The reliance of traditional fuel cells on platinum was making the concept of using them in everyday passenger cars increasingly improbable because of its high cost and scarcity.
"The cost of the platinum component alone in current fuel cells for a small car with a 100kW electric engine is more than the total cost of a traditional 100kW petrol engine."
Professor MacFarlane believes the replacement of platinum catalyst in the fuel cell "air electrode" with an inexpensive plastic material is the most important development in fuel cell technology in 20 years and makes the development of reasonably priced, pollution-free electric cars possible in the near future.
Polymers are also part of the development of the next generation of solar cells.
Polymer solar cells are made of a sandwich of layers that transport electrical charge. Conventional photovoltaic cells use silicon, which is efficient, but expensive. The polymer cells are less efficient, but cheaper and quicker to make.
They are designed to be compatible with commonplace roofing materials so they could be used over large areas - a shopping mall roof for example. They can be printed at high speed using existing polymer bank note technology, again keeping their price down.
which has now been renamed from Future of Electric Vehicles to reflect its unique covering of the whole subject.
Also read the new report Electric Vehicles 2011 - 2021 .
Image: Professor Doug MacFarlane
Image source: Monash University
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