Fuel cells could replace batteries in mobile phones and laptop computers, and the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country is looking at ways of enhancing their efficiency. Researchers are designing new ways of obtaining energy in a cleaner, safer, and more affordable way. Fuel cells are totally appropriate systems for substituting the batteries of such devices. They turn the energy resulting from the combining of hydrogen and oxygen into electrical power, with water vapor being the only waste product.
However, if these fuel cells are to produce energy, they need an external supply of hydrogen, and storing hydrogen safely poses difficulties. A good option is to use a piece of infrastructure that produces gaseous hydrogen inside the cell itself. In these cases, methanol is normally used as the raw material. Instead of powering mobile phones, laptops, and vehicles with hydrogen, methanol can be added to them so that the methanol is turned into hydrogen depending on the needs of the device. In the end, the process is the same even though it takes place in two phases.
A reactor comprising micro-channels is a hundred times smaller than a conventional reactor system. And the size of the reactor is in fact crucial in the case of all these mobile devices. The reactor contributes towards improving the heat transfer to convert the methanol into hydrogen.