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Good Things In Small Packages: Fuel Cells For Lawnmowers?

Two Princeton scientists have developed a new fuel cell technology that is efficient for small machines, like lawnmowers.

A new technology has reportedly been developed to help make fuel cells more convenient for small machines like lawnmowers and chainsaws.

National Science Foundation (NSF) award winner Jay Benziger of Princeton University developed the new technique with his student Claire Woo, a recipient of an NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates award and now a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Berkeley. Woo and Benziger published their findings in the February 2007 issue of Chemical Engineering Science.

According to their findings, many standard fuel cell designs use electronics to control power output, but these designs require complex systems to manage humidity and fuel recovery and recycling systems to achieve acceptable efficiency.

The new process controls the hydrogen feed to match the required power output. The system uses the waste water to regulate the size of the reaction chamber, where gasses combine to form water, heat and electricity. The researchers believe the first applications for their technology will be in smaller engines.

"The system is ideal for small internal combustion engines that lack emissions controls and are highly polluting," said Benziger. "There is also no need for an extensive hydrogen distribution system for these small motors; the hydrogen could be supplied in returnable tanks such as the propane tanks used for gas grills."

Benziger's next goal is to connect several of the new fuel cells together to increase power, a system that could potentially compete with cells now being tested in the automotive industry.

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