Biogas is rapidly becoming a popular source of renewable energy, and now a team at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is investigating a method to use methane in laptop fuel cells and batteries. While methane is technically a fossil fuel (as a component of natural gas), it is also created during the break-down of biomass. With that in mind, the Harvard team are investigating a method to create fuel cells that are not only powered using renewable sources, but also don’t use expensive materials such as platinum.

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences,  Micro Solid-Oxide Fuel Cell, methane powered laptop, Shriram Ramanathan, Shriram Ramanathan methane, Shriram Ramanathan micro solid oxide fuel cell, methane fuel cellImage © Flickr n3rraD

The team, led by researcher Shriram Ramanathan, is currently working on a solid oxide fuel cell that doesn’t utilize any platinum. They are also working on a micro-scale solid oxide fuel cell that operates at the relatively low temperature of 500 degrees Celsius. The fuel cell has been designed to use methane, which is much less expensive to use than hydrogen. The team is hoping to develop the technology to work at approximately 300 degrees Celsius, which team leader Ramanathan describes as the “sweet spot” where common, inexpensive catalysts work well with methane.

Ramanathan said of the innovation: “Low temperature is a holy grail in this field. If you can realize high-performance solid-oxide fuel cells that operate in the 300–500°C range, you can use them in transportation vehicles and portable electronics, and with different types of fuels.” Ramanathan hopes that the technology can be used to create a low-cost, methane-powered, micro-scale fuel cell for laptops and other portable devices. It is hoped that it will one day replace conventional laptop batteries that have limited lifespans, are made from finite materials and can be quite expensive.

Of course, there is the question of how you would charge ‘methane powered batteries’ — it will most likely be done via the purchase of biogas from municipal wastewater treatment facilities.

+ Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Via Clean Technica

Lead photo © Artnow314