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University Develops Ethanol Fuel Cell For Cars

With the world moving rapidly towards ditching petrol and diesel cars, the hunt for alternatives is intensifying – and ethanol could be part of the solution.

Researchers at the University of Florida have developed a new kind of ethanol fuel cell that could use alcohol to power a car. It would simply convert the alcohol into ethanol that can in turn be used to generate electricity, rather than heat, reports.

Unlike the battery technology electric cars use, which require the vehicle to be charged up before it can take to the road, this would start working as soon as the fuel is in, just as would happen with a petrol car. But it would avoid generating substantial quantities of fossil fuel emissions that cause climate change.

Previous attempts to develop ethanol-based fuel cells have foundered as the chemical reactions have been too slow, but the researchers found that the addition of fluorine helped the palladium-nitrogen-carbon catalysts to function with far greater speed and efficiency. Details of the new technology have been outlined in the journal Nature Energy.

The idea that an ethanol supplier could be the equivalent of one of today’s petrol producers may have seemed fanciful years ago, but now it seems this could be the future.

Associate professor at the university’s NanoScience Technology Centre and co-author of the study Yang Yang, said: “Our research enables direct ethanol fuel cells to become a new player to compete with hydrogen-fuel cells and batteries in various sustainable energy fields.”

Another benefit of ethanol fuel cells would be to prevent cars having to rely on lithium batteries, which may have significant geopolitical benefits amid concerns that China is dominating the supply and production of lithium batteries through its acquisition of mines producing the mineral all over the world.

This would ensure the rest of the world would not be held to ransom over lithium supplies and could use alternative vehicle energy sources.