Methanol fuel cells are not a brand new technology (see our 2007 interview with Smart Fuel Cells), but they are most certainly not the best-known gasoline alternative. Over at the Huffington Post, Patrick Takahashi is trying to change how we think of direct methanol fuel cells by comparing them to the future of lithium-ion batteries used in plug-in hybrids. He writes:
Per unit volume, a fuel cell should be able to provide five times more energy than the lithium battery. ... However, and this defies common sense, one gallon of methanol has more accessible hydrogen than one gallon of liquid hydrogen. Thus, the logic argues for producing methanol from biomass to power a fuel cell, as hydrogen is very expensive to manufacture, store and deliver. This simplest of alcohols is the only biofuel capable of directly and efficiently being utilized by a fuel cell without passing through an expensive reformer.
Takahashi does recognize the issues with direct methanol fuel cells, including that it'll probably take at least a decade to get them into mass produced vehicles. He's optimistic, though, saying that, "watch out for the direct methanol fuel cell, for this virtually ignored opportunity could well either someday replace vehicles powered by batteries or in parallel maybe develop even faster." Smart Fuel Cells will tell you they have "successfully overcome all major hurdles of commercialization of fuel cells" (just see their slideshow presentation, below). It's unlikely, though, that there there will be any movement towards these methanol cells when even big investments in PHEV technology aren't working out as planned.
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