This Partnerships for Innovation: Building Innovation Capacity project from Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) aims to address challenges of durability, cost, and efficiency in novel anion-exchange-membrane direct ethanol fuel cell (AEM-DEFC) technology coupled with the optimization of ethanol fuels to produce holistic, market-valued energy devices and fuel sources. The biggest limitation for currently commercialized low temperature fuel cells is the high cost and degradation of membranes and platinum-based electrocatalysts. AEM-DEFCs have several key advantages over these fuel cells: (1) faster, more efficient oxygen and ethanol reactions to produce more energy with less raw material; (2) wider choices of cheaper, non-platinum electrodes; (3) greater stability of fuel cell components; and (4) increased fuel safety and portability by using bio-ethanol. Since 2008, the PI's team has innovated and patented the technology for affordable, highly efficient polymeric electrolyte membranes and catalysts in anion-exchange-membrane fuel cells. The remaining challenge for advancing this early-stage technology to the marketplace is demonstrating its stability and efficiency in a wide range of applications and fuel types.
The broader impacts of this research are to create technology alliances among partners that build innovation capacity from the unique multidisciplinary interaction of experts in fuel cell technology and adjacent fields. The innovation capacity of IUPUI will be increased through the establishment of integral partnerships to obtain AEM-DEFC component materials, fuel sources, marketing strategies, and fuels optimization research expertise. The innovation capacity of the small business partners will be reinforced through applications for their existing intellectual property by: 1) providing a new market for bio-ethanol fuel production (Xylogenics, Inc.); 2) expanding existing market strategies and prototyping and validation processes into fuel cell technologies (Faraday Technology, Inc.); and 3) refining AEMFC technologies by addressing the catalyst challenges in addition to membrane development (Tremont Technology LLC). More broadly, AEM-DEFCs have great potential to replace combustion-powered generators and rechargeable batteries for remote military operations and portable electronic applications, respectively, because of their high efficiency, portability, low-detection (lower heat signature), no battery recharge, and low cost. The timely development of efficient, durable, and cost-effective AEM-DEFCs and corresponding bio-ethanol fuels is imperative to meeting current and future energy demands while reducing operating costs and military vulnerability through locally-source bio-fuels. Commercialized AEM-DEFCs will have local impact by revitalizing industrial and rural economies and global impact by alleviating pressure on non-renewable resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Partners at the inception of the project are the lead academic institution: Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis, including the Department of Engineering and Technology, the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and the Richard G. Lugar Center for Renewable Energy; small technology-based business partners: Faraday Technology Inc. (Clayton, Ohio), Tremont Technology LLC (Fishers, Indiana), and Xylogenics Inc. (Indianapolis, Indiana); and other partners in the following sectors: non-profit--Indiana University Research and Technology Corporation (Indianapolis, Indiana); government--Indiana Department of Corrections (Indianapolis, Indiana); and small business--Melon Acres, Inc.(Oaktown, Indiana).