I am a senior from Cary, NC currently attending the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, NC. Over the past two years, I have been performing research at NCSSM and Duke University on glucose fuel cells, microfluidics, archaea and stimuli, and ethanol fuel cell electrocatalytics. In Beijing, I will be presenting the results of my research on an ethanol fuel cell that is more cost effective than the industry standard because of the use of finely tuned components. Outside of research, I am very involved in extracurricular activities. I am captain of my high school’s varsity basketball and debate teams. Also, I run cross-country and lead a few clubs at NCSSM such as the Chemistry Club, the Solace for the Children Club, and a few others. I also serve as a Residential Life Adviser in my dorm. Though I do not get a ton of free time, I love to spend it playing the piano, reading, or catching up on current events.
Increasing energy demands across the globe have spawned formidable problems; therefore, it is imperative that alternative sources of energy are thoroughly investigated. One such alternative to fossil fuels is the fuel cell, which converts a fuel into energy, while producing little to no emissions. In particular, ethanol fuel cells are an intriguing source of energy because ethanol can be produced from organic materials, such as agricultural waste, by a simple process of fermentation. Currently, ethanol fuel cells require membranes and other expensive components to separate the two electrodes, because ethanol normally causes the cathode to malfunction. Thus, this research project focused on making and testing a cell that does not need the membrane or many of the other costly components, lowering the overall cost of making the cell. Bimetallic platinum-based electrocatalysts were synthesized and studied via cyclic voltammetry. Cyclic voltammograms showed that a platinum-palladium alloy supported on carbon (Pt-Pd/C) was ethanol tolerant during the oxygen reduction reaction, whereas a commercial platinum catalyst exhibited poisoning effects in the presence of ethanol. These results indicate that a Pt-Pd/C electrocatalyst can catalyze the oxygen reduction reaction in a single compartment fuel cell. A platinum-tin alloy supported on carbon (Pt-Sn/C) was found to be active towards the ethanol oxidation reaction. The two electrocatalysts deposited onto glassy carbon electrodes developed an open circuit voltage of ~90 mV in an ethanol containing electrolyte solution of H2SO4 with O2 bubbled in, as the oxygen was reduced at the Pt-Pd/C cathode and the ethanol was oxidized at the Pt-Sn/C anode. These results support the hypothesis that a single compartment ethanol fuel cell can be effective when electrocatalytic properties are tuned properly. By further refining the components of the fuel cell and thus improving the performance, ethanol fuel cells can be made into viable, less expensive sources of energy.