The fuel cell industry is a rapidly improving field of science and technology that has the potential to one day compete with other fuel industries. This report will discuss the various power sources used in the spacecrafts/probes and also outline the advancements of batteries and fuel cell technology.
Largest lithium ion batteryAs stated before, fuel cell and battery technology are gaining popularity because of the advantages they have over other fuel sources, lower waste and cheaper, so it was only a matter of time for big companies to develop newer models. One of the leading companies which are responsible for this rise in popularity is Tesla, which aspires for cleaner energy sources. Tesla have recently built the world’s largest lithium ion battery in South Australia. The battery cost an estimated $50millions to build and aims to produce half of the state’s renewable electricity by the year 2025. The battery is able to supply electrical power to 300,000 houses per hour and it is conveniently located near a wind farm with a generation capacity of around 315 megawatts of electrical power. Smallest lithium ion batteryThe world’s smallest battery is also a rechargeable lithium ion battery. It was developed by Panasonic and has a diameter of 2.
5mm and a weight of 0.6g. Due to its size, this product is suitable for wearable devices and other applications with a small drain. Despite its size, this lithium ion battery is highly reliable and even has a high output that is suitable for near field communications.
Apollo Space missions are an important part of human discovery so it is vital to have a reliable source of fuel for the spacecraft. The Apollo’s electrical power source was a set of three fuel cells. The cells were powered by an oxygen hydrogen reaction and produced electrical power, as well as drinkable water for the astronauts on board. The cells each had a hydrogen and an oxygen compartment and electrodes that combine to produce 27 to 31 volts. Each pf the fuel cells comprised of 31 separate cells that were connected in series and the normal power output for individual power plants (fuel cell) was approximately 563 to 1420 watts.
An earlier model of this fuel source was the Gemini fuel source which used liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to combine across a proton exchange membrane, a thin permeable polymer sheet coated with a platinum catalyst, in order to generate electrical power. VoyagerThe voyager space probe used three radioisotope thermoelectric generators that used a thermocouple, an electrical deice comprising of two dissimilar electrical conductors, to convert heat energy released from the decay of radioactive material into electrical energy by the Seebeck effect. One end of the thermocouple is located on the outside of the probe, in freezing temperatures, while the other end is inside of the probe with a higher temperature, this temperature difference between the two ends of the thermocouple generates electrical energy. Each of the generators are equipped with 24 pressed plutonium-238 oxide spheres and are capable of generating around 470 watts of electrical power, although this value is currently an overstatement due to the power output decline over time as a result of the 87.7-year half-life of the fuel and the deterioration of the thermocouple. Battery/fuel cell technology The current status of battery and fuel cell technology is a delicate. The limitations of the lithium ion battery are beginning to show and the demand for a replacement is high so alternative power sources are being researched, mainly fuel cell technology. This section will focus on the current status of the fuel cell and battery industries.
BatteryThe breakthroughs made in battery technology, or any other field, can sometimes not be a major improvement. Case in point, the overstuffed battery cathodes. Researchers at the SLAC National Accelerator Lab have discovered that overstuffing a cathode with lithium improves the range of the battery by 30-50%. The catch here is that this results in the quick deterioration of the cathode itself. This is a significant discovery as these modified batteries can greatly improve the range of electric cars which have had an increase in popularity as of late. Another breakthrough in battery technology comes from the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT), which has developed a battery based on “graphene balls” that has a 45% increase in power density. This “graphene ball” battery is also capable of being recharged up to five times greater.
The decreased recharge time and high energy density of the battery would have normally resulted in a higher temperature when recharging, however, Samsung’s new battery has a very stable temperature of 60oC. this battery could completely change the way electrical devices function if the statements made by Samsung’s researchers during the test experiment are true. As phones become more advanced, their power energy demand increases, and people needed “fast charging” batteries, which has put a lot of pressure on the battery industry.
This demand from smartphones and even electric cars has prompted research in faster charging batteries. One of the ways this fast charging can be achieved is by changing the battery entirely. The potential replacement for the lithium ion battery is solid-state battery.
In solid-state batteries, the current flows through a solid unlike lithium ion batteries in which current flows through a polymer or a liquid. In theory, these new batteries can be recharged within a minute which makes it vastly superior to current battery technology. Furthermore, the solvent that can be used in solid-state batteries is a lot cheaper and more abundant than that of current batteries as they will use water. Fuel cellsThe growing market of electrical vehicles has resulted in fuel cell technology research being given a bigger budget.
The principles of fuel cell technology are very promising, and the lack of breakthroughs is a result of only improving efficiency and design. Meaning that the number of breakthroughs could be sparse as a result of attempting to greatly improve efficiency instead of rushing the research and producing little to no improvements. The fuel cell researchers are also focusing on changing the type of fuel the cells are able to utilise. For example, there have been talks of a fuel cell powered by urine. This urine powered fuel cell is currently only capable of powering smartphones and further research on this fuel cell is being funded by Bill Gates. This type of fuel cell is a breakthrough as it uses natural biological waste in order to bring electrical power to areas that do not have access to electricity.
The latest breakthrough in the fuel cell technology was when Hyundai, a leader in the fuel cell industry, introduced a new model, NEXO. This new car was fitted with a hydrogen fuel cell with a higher efficiency than that of any other fuel cell currently available on the market. The fuel cell used is also a step further than other fuel cells when it comes to range, the improved range was estimated to be 370 miles. Another breakthrough in fuel cell technology is solid oxide fuel cells. This type of fuel cell effortlessly surpassed most other fuel cells available on the market when it came to efficiency. It even has greater efficiency than combustion engines and gas turbines.
The cells dimensions are also smaller than conventional fuel cells in order to accommodate for mass production rates and costs. This breakthrough was a major advancement in the fuel cell industry as the cost to produce this fuel cell are much lower than usual and its high efficiency means it can meet the demand from high drain applications. In conclusion, both fuel cell and battery technology are currently not capable of meeting electrical demands or commercial demands but are rapidly improving and have the potential to one day replace our current energy sources due to their numerous advantages. Although some of the research that is being carried out in these industries is still in their infancy, they can greatly influence the way we power electrical devices and vehicles as well as greatly improve their efficiency.