Cactus-Inspired Skin to Boost Electric Car Industry

Monday, May 02, 2016

Cactus Car

A study published in the journal Nature states that scientists from Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Hanyang University, Korea, have developed a type of membrane that can significantly boost the performance of fuel cells and transform the electric vehicle industry.

The membrane inspired by cactus features a water repellent skin to improve the efficiency of fuel cells by a factor of four. According to Aaron Thornton from CSIRO, the skin works in a similar way to a cactus plant which thrives by retaining water in harsh and arid environments. “Fuel cells, like the ones used in electric vehicles, generate energy by mixing together simple gases, like hydrogen and oxygen. However, in order to maintain performance, proton exchange membrane fuel cells – or PEMFCs - need to stay constantly hydrated,” Thornton said.

“One of the main barriers to the uptake of fuel cell e-vehicles is water management and heat management in fuel cell systems,” said lead researcher Professor Young Moo Lee. At present this is achieved by placing cells alongside a radiator, water reservoir and humidifier. Cactus plants have tiny cracks that open at night when it is cool and humid and closes during the day when it is hot and arid. This helps it retain water. “This membrane works in a similar way. Water is generated by an electrochemical reaction, which is then regulated through nano-cracks within the skin. The cracks widen when exposed to humidifying conditions, and close up when it is drier,” said researcher Cara Doherty.

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