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June 20-23, 200
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA

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Posted on  

September 7, 2001

University of Pennsylvania's Fuel Cell Produces Electricity From Diesel Fuel

University of Pennsylvania scientists will look at possible military uses for a fuel cell they developed that produces electricity from de-sulfurized diesel fuel.

Penn's prototype, smaller than a penny, is significant because it can run on readily available liquid fuel instead of highly explosive, hard-to-contain hydrogen, said Raymond J. Gorte, a professor of chemical engineering.

``There is sort of a saying that a fuel cell will run on any fuel as long as it is hydrogen,'' Gorte said. ``The reason that we were particularly interested in diesel is that the military would like to be able to use a single fuel, and military strategic fuels are similar to diesel fuel.''

Fuel cells produce electricity through a reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, and emit only water.

The Penn researchers and Honeywell have been awarded a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Army and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration to develop a portable fuel cell to power soldiers' electronic devices.

Automakers are working on fuel-cell vehicles, including a sport utility vehicle Toyota unveiled last month that it is road testing in Japan and the United States.

Creating onboard hydrogen storage systems that can withstand a crash has been a challenge, however. Some cells being developed use a reformulator that can extract the hydrogen from natural gas or gasoline.

General Motors unveiled a fuel cell generator in August that could provide electricity for an average sized home using hydrogen extracted from natural gas, methane or gasoline. BMW has introduced cars with fuel cells that power air conditioning and electrical equipment using hydrogen extracted from gasoline.

``All of that work involves reforming hydrocarbons to hydrogen,'' said Gorte. ``What we have shown is that we can inject liquid fuels like diesel fuel and generate electricity.''

Gorte developed the prototype with chemical engineering professor John M. Vohs, graduate student Hyuk Kim and postdoctoral researcher Seungdoo Park, and was the lead author of a paper on the work in July's issue of the Journal of the Electrochemical Society.

A government energy expert, John Turner, called the fuel cell ``a nice achievement,'' but cautioned that laboratory results don't necessarily translate quickly to products in the hardware store or auto showroom.

``To have an impact in our society, we have to develop fuel cells that can be manufactured at low cost and high volume. We don't want to spend $100,000 on our next SUV,'' said Turner, senior scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.

The Penn researchers' prototype is smaller than a penny and produces about a tenth of a watt of power. Under the military contract, Penn and Honeywell will seek to develop a fuel cell the size of a coffee can that produces as much electricity as 50 D-cell batteries.

Gorte said his team is also interested in developing a small, 5-kilowatt fuel cell that could operate on propane, butane or natural gas and would generate electricity for a home and provide heat for hot water or home heating.

BP to ship imported gas to area
Move indicates high prices may stay

In a move that suggests gasoline prices will remain high for a while, oil company BP PLC is shipping about 10 million gallons of European gasoline up the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes to fuel-starved Chicago.

"It's very unusual," said Joanne Shore, an analyst with the U.S. Energy Information Administration. "Normally, the Midwest region would have no gasoline coming in from Europe, and almost nothing from Canada."

Most of the Midwest's gasoline supply comes from the Gulf Coast, primarily by pipeline. Some supplies also are sent by barge up the Mississippi River.

BP's action comes as the Midwest continues to reel from the latest gasoline price spike, which has been partly driven by the shutdown of the Citgo Petroleum Corp.'s refinery in Romeoville. The facility, known as the Lemont Refinery, produced an estimated 85,000 barrels of gasoline per day, or roughly 2 percent of the demand in the region, Shore said. It was shut down by a fire Aug. 14, and repairs were expected to take about six months.

Gas prices have shot up more than 34 cents a gallon in the Chicago area since the fire, and many city service stations now are posting unleaded prices above $2 per gallon. The average gasoline price in the Chicago area now is $1.90 for a gallon of regular unleaded, according to AAA Chicago. 


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