By Saiful Bahri Kamaruddin
BANGI, April 16 2012 - The National University of Malaysia (UKM) Cell Fuel Institute which has developed several compact fuel cell devices for various types of motors is seeking business partners to mass-produce them.
It has set up a company, Selfuel to produce several prototypes which use various fuel sources including even sewer water and waste effluence.
Selfuel Director, Prof Ir Dr Wan Ramli Wan Daud who heads the research said they have produced a device that converts chemical energy from a fuel into electricity through a chemical reaction with oxygen or another oxidizing agent with water as the waste product.
The technology can help save energy costs and is far more environmental-friendly than traditional fossil-fuel engines, he told UKM News Portal on the sidelines of the 2012 Science and Innovation celebrations here on Monday.
He said hydrogen is the most common fuel, but hydrocarbons such as natural gas and alcohols like methanol are sometimes used.
In his research he claims he has even got promising results using sewage and other waste waters.
Fuel cells are different from batteries in that they require a constant source of fuel and oxygen to run, but they can produce electricity continually for as long as the inputs are supplied.
Fuel cells are used as primary power in remote or inaccessible areas or as a backup power for commercial, industrial and residential buildings.
They can also be used to power fuel cell vehicles, including cars, buses, forklifts, airplanes, boats, motorcycles and submarines.
Fuel cells are quieter and cleaner than the traditional internal-combustion engines as it do not involve explosions in pistons and cylinders.
Prof Wan Ramli said fuel cells are even more favourable than the more well-known technologies like solar power and rechargable Lithium-Ion batteries.
The hydrogen-powered cells are also far more practical, as they do not need large glass panels which weigh down solar-powered cars or devices.
As long as there is a fuel source, he said, a fuel cell motor can be quickly started up without the need to charge batteries like in Lithium-Ion cells used in some electric vehicles.
All that needs to be done is to channel the fuel into the cells and the motor will run.
Prof Wan Ramli's research and develoment earned him a payment of about RM7,000 in this year's science and innovation awards from the university. He was one of the 20 UKM scientists and researchers who were the recipients of payments totalling RM137,000 given by the university in recognition of their innovations.
SelFuel exhibited several patented fuel cell models and engines, one of which can power a moped or small motorcycle.
Prof Wan Ramli and his team of researchers which include graduate students believe they managed to reduce the size of the fuel cells unrivalled by anything currently available in the market.
The first commercial use of fuel cells was in NASA space programmes to generate power for probes, satellites and space capsules. Since then, fuel cells have been used in many other applications.
There are many types of fuel cells, but they all consist of an anode (negative), a cathode (positive) and an electrolyte that allows charges to move between the two sides of the fuel cell.
Electrons are drawn from the anode to the cathode through an external circuit, producing direct current electricity.
The main difference among fuel cell types is the electrolyte and thus fuel cells are classified by the type of electrolyte they use.
The energy efficiency of a fuel cell is generally between 40-60%, or up to 85% efficient if waste heat is captured for use.
Fuel cells are useful in remote areas where the supply of electricity can be critical. It can also be hooked up to the national grid as an auxillary power supply whenever the main supply gets disrupted.