John ZHU
Coal Fuel Cell

UQ Expert's Invention Scores a Clean Coal Coup

by Des Houghton
August 19, 2009

A University of Queensland scientist said yesterday he had successfully tested technology that delivers twice the power from coal while minimising greenhouse gas emissions.

The exciting breakthrough, which could provide a billion-dollar windfall for the state, may revolutionise the way the world uses coal, a university spokesman said.

Professor John Zhu, of the school of chemical engineering, created a series of direct carbon fuel cells (DCFC) in which burning coal generates highly energy-efficient electricity.

''The very high-energy efficiency of the new technology will effectively halve the amount of coal required to create electricity,'' he said.

''When applied, it will provide industry with very significant cost and energy savings, which could then be passed on to the consumer. In addition to saving cost and energy, the direct carbon fuel cells will also provide clean power.''

Dr Zhu, 41, a father of three girls, said he worked in a ''hot and dirty'' steel factory in Hubei provence in central China while studying engineering.

''I have always wanted to do something for a cleaner environment. Now I'm feeling very positive,'' he said.
Dr Zhu, the son of a primary school teacher, said traditional power stations, which burnt coal to heat water to make steam to power turbines, were outmoded. He said his process used a coal and air mix to produce electrons inside special carbon fuel cells.

He said scientists in California were working on a similar process, but he believed he and his team at the university had beaten them to the punch.

He said he expected the fuel cells would enable the byproduct of coal-fired power - the harmful greenhouse gas carbon dioxide - to be trapped and stored easily and safely.

''One of the major challenges for coal-fired power is reducing its impact on the environment by developing ways to separate carbon dioxide from other gases produced in the power generation process, and ensuring it is not released into the atmosphere,'' he said.

''The DCFC produces pure carbon dioxide as a byproduct, making it much easier to manage."

He said the next stage in the development would involve consulting with the energy sector and securing industry and government funding to ''scale up'' the fuel cell technology. This could take 10 years.

Professor Graham Schaffer, dean of the university's Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology, said the new fuel cell technology was one of a number of clean energy technologies being developed at the university.

''Partnerships with industry and government have enabled our researchers to make significant progress towards these new technologies,'' he said.

John Zhu


Direct carbon fuel battery 

Abstract -- The invention relates to a direct carbon fuel cell, which provides a direct carbon fuel cell directly taking carbon or carbon composite as the anode, and metal oxide as the cathode, single or double phase low medium temperature ceria composite as the electrolyte. The direct carbon fuel cell is power molding button cell with electrolyte in the middle and the anode and cathode separately on each side. The pressed sheets of anode and cathode are one to two mm thick. The invention can get the best performance about 0.25 watts per square centimeter under the temperature of 600 to 650 degrees centigrade, which is two times above the performance of such fuel cell according to a report from USA and has reached the international leading level.

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