#447: Internal micro-combustion engine to replace fuel cells

“New Scientist” dated 19 June 2004 has just arrived at my desk a few days ago. I was very busy this week and I had a chance to have a little time to read it only today. Nowadays, everybody knows about fuel cells and what is called Nano-technology. So, people automatically think that they will dominate the small electrical or electronic devices such as portable telephone devices and personal computers and so on.

Which is true and not true also? Let me quote some parts of the some parts of the article as follows: “You might think that we already burn hydrocarbons in enough places on Earth. The planet‟s roars are nose to tail with engines designed to turn fossil fuels into usable energy, polluting our cities with gases and loading the atmosphere with global-warming carbon. The same polluting hydrocarbon fuels feed many of our power stations and heat most of our homes. Well, now there‟s a plan to burn hydrocarbons literally anywhere and everywhere. But before you throw up your hands in horror, listen to the reasons why and see if you don‟t agree that it could, in fact, be rather a neat idea. “The problem is that batteries are lousy power sources. For today‟s mobile electronic devices, the limiting factor is the battery: there‟s just not enough juice for a given size and weight. Lithium-ion batteries have an energy density of 1.2 mega joules per kilogram, and alkaline batteries are only half as good. But your average liquefied hydrocarbon, such as propane or butane, contains an astounding 45 mega joules per kilogram.

Nowadays. internal combustion engines generate the most power of any device. or be used as portable charges for the battery. a pocket-sized capsule of propane will give you all the power you need. The heat produced can be converted to electricity by thermoelectric element in the walls. Alternatively. the heat can warm a solid oxide fuel cell at the center. . this turbine can produce 17 watts of usable power. so no one is sure of the best way to do it. For a given size. has produced 10 watts of power.“Several teams of researchers are drooling over that figure and working out how to replace the batteries in mobile phones. Los Angeles. If you fancy a day in the park as you type up your presentation. So. „You can imagine. The article introduces four different types of micro-combustion or micro-engines as follows: 1) Methanol reformer: Built at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. say. we and our machines would at least be free. teaming up with Bick. this device produces hydrogen from methanol to power a fuel cell. „Unfortunately. enough to power a mobile phone. enough for a laptop.‟ says Paul Ronny of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Expected output 500 mill watts. Burn fuel such as propane in a central combustion chamber. 2) Mini-rotary engine: An internal combustion engine about 2cm across built at the University of California. 4) The Swiss roll: Being investigated at the University of Southern California. Intel. Combine this with the high energy density of hydrocarbons and the reason petrol and diesel engines rule the roost become clear. laptops and other portable electronics with power sources that run on fossil fuels. Berkley. Perhaps the most direct approach takes its cue from the technology that dominates at the macro scale − the internal combustion engines. I personally feel that the conventional but new micro-combustion as reported in the above article seems even more realistic as all introduced here is just a question of size. there are too many reports and episodes regarding newly born Nano-technology in almost all science magazines in the whole world. The goal is 30 − 60 watts. like you make Bick lighters or disposable batteries. and the California Institute for Technology. Personally I am interested in mini-rotary engine and the Swiss roll. our not-so-mobile devices would finally escape the grip of the electricity grid. “The race to develop the micro-power generators that will make batteries obsolete has only just got off the starting blocks.‟ “If the researchers can get these power sources to work. the goal is to be able to make millions of these cheaply. Either way. I find most of the new technologies reported are either too early to commercialize or the world is not yet ready to use them. 3) The gas turbine: Created at MIT. But when I contact the inventors. Output 100 − 300 mill watts. Macro-power generations might power the machines directly.