The National Science Foundation (NSF) is sponsoring HNEI research aimed at the development of a moderate-temperature aqueous-alkaline/carbonate biocarbon fuel cell. The NSF grant provides support for a graduate student, Professor Michael J. Antal, Jr. (HNEI), Professor Stephen Allen (Hawaii Pacific University), and Dr. Gabor Varhegyi (Hungarian Academy of Sciences). The Summary of the proposal that NSF has funded is shown below. Thus far, HNEI research on biocarbon fuel cells has resulted in the publication of three archival-journal papers that are available from Professor Antal upon request.
The aim of the proposal was the development of an aqueous-alkaline/carbonate biocarbon fuel cell which performs well while realizing electrolyte invariance by exploiting electrochemical reactions that are favored at temperatures near 300 °C.
Very large quantities of lignocellulosic residues (e.g., corncobs, coconut shells) accompany the production of bioethanol and biodiesel fuels. These residues can be efficiently and quickly converted into biocarbons. Carbon fuel cells can generate electricity from these biocarbons – as well as from coal, and other fossil carbons – with a theoretical thermodynamic efficiency of 100%. A recent EPRI study indicates that carbon fuel cells have the potential to convert biocarbons into electrical power at a system level efficiency of about 60%, which is over 20% higher than the efficiencies realized by current state-of-the-art integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) or advanced pulverized coal power generation systems. Thus the production of biocarbon can complement the production of bioethanol and biodiesel in a biomass refinery that also produces electricity at a very high efficiency.