Fuelled by alcohol

Published: Thursday 15 December 1994

Researchers at England's University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne have developed efficient fuel cells based on methyl alcohol for use in electric cars (New Scientist, Vol 144, No 1946).

To use methyl alcohol as a fuel requires it to be broken down to yield hydrogen, using a catalyst. But the catalyst was problematic -- its constituent platinum and ruthenium particles tended to pile on top of each other instead of forming a uniform layer on the electrode, lowering efficiency and raising cost.

The Newcastle team, led by Andrew Hamnett, overcame this problem by using a colloidal suspension of negatively-charged metal particles to deposit the catalyst. Since similar charges repel, the catalyst particles do not clump together.

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