In this assignment I will discuss the different power supplies
utilised in space crafts/probes and the advancements of batteries and fuel cell
technology. Fuel cells are electrochemical cells that convert chemical energy
from fuels into electrical energy via a reaction between Hydrogen fuels with
Oxygen atoms or any other oxidising agents. These cells only require steady
availability of fuel and oxygen to sustain the reaction and these are readily
available. And the production of electricity will continue as long as the fuel
and oxygen is available. This is why the fuel cell industry is a fast growing sector
in science and technology.
The principle of
fuel cell technology was discovered by Sir William Grove Robert also known as
“father of the fuel cell”. He built his first fuel cell in 1842. Later on, two chemists, Carl Langer and Ludwig Mond
developed a fuel cell that was made up to offer long life span by the addition
of a porous non-conductor to hold the electrolyte. Fuel cell research has been
around since then, they helped in production of low cost and high cost energy
to power our devices. From the diagram (Figure 1) we can see that hydrogen gets
oxidised at the anode which is negative while the oxygen is being reduced at
the cathode. The electrolyte acts as a bridge and helps transport the ions from
one side to another. To create a useable voltage, many battery cells are
connected in series because a single cell generates less than 1 volt.
and Gemini fuel cell
Astronauts go on missions to space every once in a while to
observe or discover new things about the universe and it is important that they
have a reliable source of energy that can also last long. The fuel cells in the
Apollo were powered by three large cells that involved an oxygen-hydrogen
reaction which lead to the production of electricity. Materials used in
construction included Nickel, titanium and steel. The electricity helped in the
provision of drinking water, preserved food, etc. for astronauts during the
duration of their mission. Fuel cells
can also be used to power satellites and space capsules.
The Gemini spacecraft was the second human spaceflight project by
NASA. It started in 1961 and was concluded about 5 years after. This spacecraft
was powered by two hydrogen-oxygen fuel batteries and they were able to
generate electrical energy using liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The fuel
section had three fuel cells and each of these cells had 32 individual cells
connected in series enabling the craft to generate about 26volts. This helped
the astronauts survive in space for a long period of time. This similar technology
was applied in the Apollo spacecraft.
The smallest battery in the world.
Panasonic produced the
smallest battery. Their lithium ion batteries are used in powering small
devices. The battery is pin shaped and has a capacity of 13mAh with a diameter
of 3.5mm and it weighs 0.6g. It is very reliable and can be used for near field
Communication (transfer of small amounts of data between two devices
wirelessly, this technology is used in contactless bank cards). This battery is
a secondary cell as it can be recharged and reused.
The Biggest Battery in the World.
Tesla has invested in developing fuel cell and battery and they
succeeded in asking the world’s largest lithium ion battery in South
Australian. This battery aims to produce a large amounts of the state’s
renewable energy in a few years to come as there has been frequent power
outages in the area for some time. This battery was very expensive, it cost
about $50million for its manufacture but long-term, it could save a lot of
money and energy. It can supply power to about 350,000 houses. It is powered by
a wind farm in South Australia. This project has moved boundaries for South
Australia and has made them potential leaders in the fuel cells, battery and
The voyager is a program that involved the help of two space robotic
probes to study the solar system. They observe and transmit very useful
scientific data space probe that was used in three radioisotope thermoelectric
generators. The pictures and date collected by the probes cameras and other
instruments unveiled unknown attributes about giant planets and moons. It used
an electrical device/sensor that measures temperature and it compromises of
electrical conductors that convert heat energy from decayed radioactive
material to electrical energy. There are two dissimilar thermocouples, one is
kept outside the probe while the other is located inside the probe. The probe
outside is in freezing temperature with the other probe is on a warmer
temperature and this helps in the generation of electric energy.
Battery and Fuel Cell Technology.
Battery and fuel cell technology is always advancing as with every
new one there is a possibility to overpower them as limitations begin to show. Research
is continued to find the next big thing is battery and fuel cell technology.
There has been a breakthrough in the modification of lithium ion
batteries. Researchers have improved the design the lithium ion battery cells
and it now has slits along the electrodes. This advancement reduces the risk
that come with better failure during car accidents. This protects the electric
batteries in cars from mechanical damage. This battery has a more improved
energy density. This advancement allows the batteries to separate into many
smaller batteries if the automobile is damaged on collision. Doing this reduces
the chances or risk from the accident because small batteries are less harmful
than large ones. This invention makes it much easier to transport vehicles
during manufacture and also the manufactures do not need the heavy-duty
containers that protect the batteries. This is cheaper and makes the vehicles
even less heavy.
Nowadays, most automobiles use lithium ion batteries which are not
dangerous but on collision, the impact affects the function and this may also
lead to explosions and cause even more harm. They tested the test sample
against a standard lithium ion battery by forcing a large metal bar through
each of them. The battery was deformed but still continued to function at over
90% of its original capacity. But the standard battery when passed through the
metal bar was completely destroyed.
Even though they are still so many tests to be run for this
project to be officially released, the method has a potential to perform very
well and even better that the standard batteries. They can also reduce risks.
Although, the cost of production requires funds, the long term benefits
supersedes that as batteries that may have undergone accidents can be recovered
these days require the use of toxic rare or very valuable metals for the
production and storage of electrical energy. The Enzyme-based fuel cells are a
major breakthrough as they do not require these metals. Enzymes can be
encapsulated and retained to be used. They have a higher energy density that
usual batteries and they do not require much to produce. They utilize
environmental compatible materials. Further research is being conducted in this
sector at the moment. One of this pioneers in this research is Dr Shelly
Minteer from Saint Louis University’s department of chemistry. With the help of
her team she developed a technology that is able to immobilize enzymes and
using them for long-term catalytic applications. She used metabolic fuels
(fatty acids, glycerol, alcohols, glucose, etc.) to demonstrate how they can be
used to provide the fuel source. The fuel source is then converted to
electrical energy as enzymes and multi enzymes provide catalytic power.