The fuel cellindustry is a rapidly improving field of science and technology that has thepotential to one day compete with other fuel industries. This report willdiscuss the various power sources used in the spacecrafts/probes and alsooutline the advancements of batteries and fuel cell technology.Largest lithium ion batteryAs statedbefore, fuel cell and battery technology are gaining popularity because of theadvantages they have over other fuel sources, lower waste and cheaper, so itwas only a matter of time for big companies to develop newer models. One of theleading companies which are responsible for this rise in popularity is Tesla,which aspires for cleaner energy sources. Tesla have recently built the world’slargest lithium ion battery in South Australia. The battery cost an estimated$50millions to build and aims to produce half of the state’s renewableelectricity by the year 2025.
The battery is able to supply electrical power to300,000 houses per hour and it is conveniently located near a wind farm with ageneration capacity of around 315 megawatts of electrical power. Smallest lithium ion batteryThe world’ssmallest battery is also a rechargeable lithium ion battery. It was developedby 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 asmall drain. Despite its size, this lithium ion battery is highly reliable andeven has a high output that is suitable for near field communications.
Apollo Space missionsare an important part of human discovery so it is vital to have a reliablesource of fuel for the spacecraft. The Apollo’s electrical power source was aset of three fuel cells. The cells were powered by an oxygen hydrogen reactionand produced electrical power, as well as drinkable water for the astronauts onboard. The cells each had a hydrogen and an oxygen compartment and electrodes thatcombine to produce 27 to 31 volts. Each pf the fuel cells comprised of 31separate cells that were connected in series and the normal power output forindividual power plants (fuel cell) was approximately 563 to 1420 watts. An earlier modelof this fuel source was the Gemini fuel source which used liquid oxygen andliquid hydrogen to combine across a proton exchange membrane, a thin permeablepolymer sheet coated with a platinum catalyst, in order to generate electricalpower. VoyagerThe voyager spaceprobe used three radioisotope thermoelectric generators that used athermocouple, an electrical deice comprising of two dissimilar electricalconductors, to convert heat energy released from the decay of radioactivematerial into electrical energy by the Seebeck effect. One end of thethermocouple is located on the outside of the probe, in freezing temperatures,while the other end is inside of the probe with a higher temperature, thistemperature difference between the two ends of the thermocouple generateselectrical energy.
Each of the generators are equipped with 24 pressedplutonium-238 oxide spheres and are capable of generating around 470 watts ofelectrical power, although this value is currently an overstatement due to thepower output decline over time as a result of the 87.7-year half-life of thefuel and the deterioration of the thermocouple. Battery/fuel cell technology The currentstatus of battery and fuel cell technology is a delicate. The limitations ofthe lithium ion battery are beginning to show and the demand for a replacementis high so alternative power sources are being researched, mainly fuel celltechnology. This section will focus on the current status of the fuel cell andbattery industries.
BatteryThebreakthroughs made in battery technology, or any other field, can sometimes notbe a major improvement. Case in point, the overstuffed battery cathodes.Researchers at the SLAC National Accelerator Lab have discovered thatoverstuffing a cathode with lithium improves the range of the battery by30-50%. The catch here is that this results in the quick deterioration of thecathode itself.
This is a significant discovery as these modified batteries cangreatly improve the range of electric cars which have had an increase inpopularity as of late. Anotherbreakthrough in battery technology comes from the Samsung Advanced Institute ofTechnology (SAIT), which has developed a battery based on “graphene balls” thathas a 45% increase in power density. This “graphene ball” battery is alsocapable of being recharged up to five times greater. The decreased rechargetime and high energy density of the battery would have normally resulted in ahigher temperature when recharging, however, Samsung’s new battery has a very stabletemperature of 60oC. this battery could completely change the wayelectrical devices function if the statements made by Samsung’s researchersduring the test experiment are true.
As phones becomemore advanced, their power energy demand increases, and people needed “fastcharging” batteries, which has put a lot of pressure on the battery industry. Thisdemand from smartphones and even electric cars has prompted research in fastercharging batteries. One of the ways this fast charging can be achieved is bychanging the battery entirely. The potential replacement for the lithium ionbattery is solid-state battery. In solid-state batteries, the current flowsthrough a solid unlike lithium ion batteries in which current flows through apolymer or a liquid. In theory, these new batteries can be recharged within aminute which makes it vastly superior to current battery technology.Furthermore, the solvent that can be used in solid-state batteries is a lotcheaper and more abundant than that of current batteries as they will usewater.
Fuel cellsThe growingmarket of electrical vehicles has resulted in fuel cell technology researchbeing given a bigger budget. The principles of fuel cell technology are verypromising, and the lack of breakthroughs is a result of only improvingefficiency and design. Meaning that the number of breakthroughs could be sparseas a result of attempting to greatly improve efficiency instead of rushing theresearch and producing little to no improvements. The fuel cellresearchers are also focusing on changing the type of fuel the cells are ableto 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 smartphonesand further research on this fuel cell is being funded by Bill Gates.
This typeof fuel cell is a breakthrough as it uses natural biological waste in order tobring electrical power to areas that do not have access to electricity. The latestbreakthrough in the fuel cell technology was when Hyundai, a leader in the fuelcell industry, introduced a new model, NEXO. This new car was fitted with ahydrogen fuel cell with a higher efficiency than that of any other fuel cellcurrently available on the market. The fuel cell used is also a step furtherthan other fuel cells when it comes to range, the improved range was estimatedto be 370 miles. Another breakthroughin fuel cell technology is solid oxide fuel cells. This type of fuel celleffortlessly surpassed most other fuel cells available on the market when itcame to efficiency.
It even has greater efficiency than combustion engines andgas turbines. The cells dimensions are also smaller than conventional fuelcells in order to accommodate for mass production rates and costs. Thisbreakthrough was a major advancement in the fuel cell industry as the cost toproduce this fuel cell are much lower than usual and its high efficiency meansit can meet the demand from high drain applications. In conclusion,both fuel cell and battery technology are currently not capable of meetingelectrical demands or commercial demands but are rapidly improving and have thepotential to one day replace our current energy sources due to their numerousadvantages. Although some of the research that is being carried out in theseindustries is still in their infancy, they can greatly influence the way wepower electrical devices and vehicles as well as greatly improve theirefficiency.