UCF researcher develops safer method for electric cars, batteries

Oxygen particles can change the way cars run


ORLANDO, Fla. – A University of Central Florida researcher developed a new method to create cheaper, safer and more efficient fuel cells for electric vehicles. 

Electric cars currently use lithium-ion batteries but, according to Yang Yang, the researcher behind the study, these batteries present several problems to our health and are not perfectly safe.  

"If you have an accident, these ion batteries in the car will catch fire and in that case, these iron batteries in the car will become a bomb," Yang said. "It's really dangerous for human beings."

Fuel cells are safer options since they have a higher energy density, meaning they last longer after a single charging. Yang estimates cars that use lithium-ion batteries can only drive 300 to 400 miles. This poses a problem for long-distance driving where charging stations might not be available. 

Although more efficient, fuel cells possess several challenges, including the material used: platinum. This metal is very costly but Yang has a solution. Creating a porous structure from the element increases the surface level available and minimizes the cost, he said.

"The amount of material used in our fuel cells is about 10 percent as compared to commercialized," Yang said. "That means we can reduce the cost by 90 percent." 

By using oxygen, Yang can control the porous structure on a nano-scale level, unlike traditional chemical processes. 

"If we can quickly and greatly reduce the platinum content, we can reduce the price of the fuel cells," Yang said. "Therefore, they can easily build a really cheap fuel cell for the car, which can really make a breakthrough in the car industry." 

At this point, the exact use for these fuel cells is still unknown, but Guanzhi Wang, a graduate research assistant, is hopeful for future possibilities. 

"Maybe we can use the fuel cell as a battery, you know, charge, a deep charge, and we can use the battery to build, to find some energy system in the future for vehicles and other instruments," she said.

Yang is a researcher at UCF's NanoScience Technology Center, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and is an assistant professor. He is also a member at  UCF's Energy Conversion and Propulsion Cluster.