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 battery
As 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 battery
The 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.
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.
The 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
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.
The 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
The 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.