The human body is arguably one of the finest machines ever created by nature, and now a team from Norway’s Academy of Science and Letters in Oslo are looking to it for inspiration as they design the next generation of hydrogen fuel cells. More specifically, they are looking at the lungs — according to Signe Kjelstrup, who is heading the team, making fuel cells in the shape of lungs could cut down on the amount of expensive catalysts needed, such as platinum, while increasing efficiency. It is hoped that the research will enable hydrogen cars to manufactured en mass.

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But what makes the shape of the lung benefical to the efficiency of fuel cells? In Kjelstrup’s team’s cell, they’ve designed channels modelled on the bronchial structure of the lungs in order to supply hydrogen and oxygen gas to their respective electrodes. As such, this design enables the spread of gases much more uniformly and efficiently — just like oxygen in the lungs.

It also means that less platinum is needed, as the efficient spread of gas across the catalyst outdoes current conventional methods — meaning a larger surface area is no longer needed. Reducing the amount of platinum that hydrogen fuel cells use will make their production all the more affordable, and therefore more appealing to car manufacturers. It is entirely possible that within five years, the next generation of ‘green vehicles’ will be powered by these cells.

While tests and designs are currently ongoing, it is just another example of how nature is influencing the science and technology of today. The study of biomimicry has already resulted in generations of aerodynamic cars designed to look like water drops and solar cells designed to mimic the structure of honeycomb.

+ Energy and Fuels

Via New Scientist