Junkyard Hydrogen Fuel Cell *Currently Suspended*

Making Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology More Accessible And Recycling In The Process

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The goal of this project, is to make hydrogen fuel cell technology more accessible, by using recycled and easy to source materials.

Access to readily available electricity is something, that evades much of the worlds population. While at the same time, the amount of human generated waste continues to grow exponentially. Besides waste, much of the world is still struggling to to gain access to clean water, medicine, education, and safe long term food storage. Many of theses issues could be solved, with access to basic electrical power.

In the 21st century it is virtually impossible for people in under developed areas to work toward bettering their circumstances without access to technology. Several organizations have already started to work toward increasing access to meet that needs. However, access to electricity to power the technology is again scares for many. Without electricity many people are left behind, with little hope of succeeding in a rapidly developing and globalized world.

The ultimate goal of this project is to help empower people all over the world to generate their own power, using materials that would usually be discarded with little thought or concern.

Not only am I hoping that this project will help people in underdeveloped regions, but I am also hoping it can be used to help with recovery after a natural disasters, or be applied to any number of other situations were it would be useful.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please post them. I'll never turn down free advise.

P.S. Don't forget to Follow and leave a Skull if you like what you see.

  • Project Shutting Down... For Now.

    Chali Baicunn07/21/2015 at 16:10 0 comments


    I want to apologize for being away so long. I'm writing this to let you know that I am suspending this project for now. Again, I apologize to everyone that has been interested, but I have way to many irons in the fire, and I have taken on new responsibilities that I had not previously accounted for. I will be withdrawing the project from the Hackaday 2015 contest. I will be wrapping up a few other projects shortly and will be posting them on here. Sorry again for the inconvenience, but I feel that with my limited time, I need to finish the projects that completed sooner first. I plan to come back to this project in the future.

    Thank You For Your Support And Understanding,

    Chali Baicunn

  • Sorry For The Delay

    Chali Baicunn06/08/2015 at 17:16 0 comments

    Hello Everyone,

    I want to apologize for the delay in posts, but I have been putting in a lot of work on my website . I'm wrapping up the rest of the backend work on my site in preparation for convention season. When I'm done with the work there, I'll be back here and posting updates. If you get a chance to swing by the site and share, please do. Thanks for the patience.


    Chali Baicunn

  • Catalysts & PEMs: Brainstorming Alternative Solutions Part 1

    Chali Baicunn05/13/2015 at 21:52 0 comments

    At the heart of the project is finding an alternative for the PEM. One of the biggest issues that I have run into is that there very little information out there about exactly how PEMs are contructed. There is a lot of information available regarding some of the materials used and the chemistry of the process, but I have yet to find a good cut away image of a commercially manufactured cell or PEM.

    FYI.... If you contact hydrogen fuel cell manufactures asking for more information... They don't respond.. Or they do, but it's a blanket statement that it's a trade secret, and ask you not to contact them again... :/

    So what to do.... what to do.... Well as Dr. Whitehall so eloquently put it "Discovery requires experimentation.... Hail Hydra!" Sorry had to get the mad scientist bit out of the way.

    Through my research, I have found that a PEM cell seems to be comprised of an anode and a cathode with an electrolytic membrane sandwich between the two along with a catalytic layer on both the anode and cathode sides.

    Here's a few generalized diagram of what the PEM cell should look like:

    ---------- PEM Fuel Cell----------

    The reaction needed for a PEM fuel cell to function is a redox reaction. This means that we need to take the single electron from the hydrogen atom through an oxidation state and deliver that electron to the other side of the cell where hydrogen will meet up with oxygen and the spare electron to create water in a reduction state.

    Here's a link to the Wikipedia page explaining redox reactions

    ---------- Hydrogen Atom---------

    Hydrogen Atom

    ---------- Bonding of Hydrogen To Water----------

    ---------- Diagram of Reaction In Fuel Cell----------


    With that last bit out of the way, it's time we discuss catalysts. There are three major metal that are unique in their ability to catalyze reactions between hydrogen and oxygen. Those are platinum (Pt), palladium (Pd), and rhodium (Rd). Unfortunately these metals are both rare and hard to work with. But fortunately there are several possible sources where these metals exist in a form that is more or less easier to work with. The most common sources that I could find these metals are in catalytic converters and hard drives.

    • I have thought about using slightly roughed hard drive platters stacked as both a catalyst and for the anode and cathode. I do not know if this will work as I have a rudimentary understanding of chemistry, and I am unaware of Pt, Pd, and Rd compounds present on hard drive platters. As I am unsure of this, I am also unsure of whether it will actually work as a catalyst, but I'll be sure to test.
    • I have also thought about cutting sections out of a catalytic converter from an internal combustion engine, as they are specifically manufactured to catalyze hydrogen and oxygen compounds. However, I has been told that the support material in some catalytic converters may contain asbestos. Further research is needed, bc I don't like cancer, and would feel pretty terrible about encouraging others to potentially contaminate themselves.
    • Another approach would be to harvest the catalyst metals and convert them into a metallic salt as suggested in the comments by Jehu:

    " ...The way I'd get the Pt out is to snap the platters, submerse in NaOH to react the Al, wash and roast the Pt foil and then react with Aqua Reiga to make a chloro platinate salt."


    Now we have come to what I believe will be the most challenging part of the build; The PEM. The reason I feel like this is the most changeling part is that finding a material that will only allow a single proton (.1 µm) to pass through and/or acidic enough to assist with knocking the electron off of the hydrogen atom, while allowing the hydrogen proton to pass through the membrane to the cathode side of the fuel cell. This also means that the both the anode and cathode would need to separated via a barrier from the acid.

    • One of the primary materials used as a PEM is a chemical cousin to Teflon (PTFE), known as Nafion. It's a pretty amazing...
    Read more »

  • Safety First: Integrating A Microcontroller

    Chali Baicunn05/05/2015 at 15:46 0 comments

    So after a wonderfully terrifying dream last night, I have come to the realization that I have been a bit too cavalier with safety.

    Hydrogen is an extremely flammable gas that is tasteless, odorless, and colorless!

    So I have decided that I will be setting up a monitoring and emergency shutdown system. I plan on integrating several hydrogen gas sensors that I found on Sparkfun (HERE) along with microcontroller.

    Microcontroller integration also allows for added functionality from monitoring gas levels, power output, and temperature. It will also allow for great gas flow control, by giving the user access to electronically controlled gas solenoid valves.

    But the primary dilemma in using a microcontroller, is access to a computer. Since this project is being designed to use in places without access to power let alone computers.

    So..... What to do?....

    I could get the coding packaged up and ready then the controller could be flashed, but this may not work depending on environmental factors, plus what if there is a fault, and no one can repair the code.....

    I could integrate a microcontroller with a simple LCD screen and a keyboard, but the tech may not be easily sources, plus it's just adding to the cost.

    After trolling around for a few hours, looking at several different options, and thinking about several work arounds. I decided to see what the Hackaday users have done to get a low power small package solutions. Then there it was in front of my face...... LightBlue Bean. It meets all or the requirements; small, low power, easy to program, plenty of room for sensors, economical, plus phone integration over Bluetooth.

    This might strike you as odd, but Africa has more cellphone users than North America or Europe. Asia is the fastest growing cellular market by some accounts. Many parts of Asia and Africa are home to some of the world's most underdeveloped regions.

    So looks like LightBlue Bean it will be.

    If someone has one of these just floating around they want to throw my way, it'd be appreciated... Not saying any names, but heard these are being handed out.......

  • The Science

    Chali Baicunn05/04/2015 at 17:48 0 comments

    Before I dive in on the build, I want to take a few minutes to explain the basic science of how a hydrogen fuel cell works for those of you who don't know.

    The Process:

    1) Hydrogen gas flows into the anode side of the of the fuel cell

    2) The hydrogen gas is exposed to an electrolytic material that allows for hydrogen protons to pass through. However, the free electrons are forced pass over it's surface through the anode where the electrons can be used as electricity.

    3) Once the hydrogen reaches the cathode side of the electrolyte the hydrogen is then combined with oxygen atoms to create waste water.

    So long short, if i end up with water and electricity, then I have a working fuel cell.

    For more details checkout:

  • The Idea

    Chali Baicunn04/30/2015 at 18:52 0 comments

    This idea has actually been a bit of a thought experiment floating around in my head for quite sometime. So I figured what better time then now to get it built.

    Project Goal: To create a small proof on concept hydrogen electric fuel cell, that is safe, low cost, and easy to build and maintain using materials that are readily available.

    Project Needs: Hydrogen gas, cheap P.E.M. (Proton Exchange Membrane), Electrical storage device

    Challenges: Finding a cheap and readily available P.E.M. material, finding readily available source of hydrogen (preferably renewable), handling hydrogen safely, avoiding excess heat and electrical spark (I like my flesh and limbs intact), and using materials that do not react with hydrogen, oxygen, or water violently.

    How does this make an impact?: A working hydrogen fuel cell built from common and/or recycled materials makes the technology much more accessible for everyone. And Increased accessibility has historically fueled innovation and economic growth. The hope in successfully achieving the project goal, would be that electrical power could be delivered to people in remote or impoverished locations, that would otherwise not have access to electricity.

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MECHANICUS wrote 08/01/2015 at 05:12 point

Good article on phosphoric acid electrolyte I stumbled across while looking for electrolyte concentration.

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MECHANICUS wrote 07/23/2015 at 23:24 point

Sad to see you gave up the ghost, I need a fuel cell for my supercaps I guess I will have to build it as well.

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Chali Baicunn wrote 07/24/2015 at 03:27 point

Sorry to disappoint. I plan on coming back to it. What kind of power output do you need?

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Jehu wrote 05/18/2015 at 18:38 point

Check this out

And this 

If we can make it non soluble in water it might be an option. Maybe cross-link it with borax. 
This guy has a heap of things that could be helpful too

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/20/2015 at 13:16 point

I will give them a look shortly and get back to you.

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Peter Walsh wrote 05/18/2015 at 03:50 point

Also, if you manage to get platinum, you can precipitate platinum nanoparticles with a huge surface area from platinum chloride.

First dissolve platinum in Aqua Regia (which you mention below that you are already doing), then heat to create platinum(IV) chloride.

Then google "synthesis of copper nanoparticles ascorbic acid". It's a relatively new pathway discovered in 2005 (IIRC), and it uses copper chloride and ascorbic acid to precipitate copper. Ascorbic acid is vitamin C (readily available), and I've actually done this reaction - it's simple to reproduce.

The ascorbic acid reaction should work for anything with a redox potential higher than +0.166 V (the potential of ascorbic acid), and the potential of platinum(IV) chloride is +0.758, so the substitution should work.

A (rather long) blog post discussing the reaction:

Standard electrode potentials:

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/18/2015 at 13:54 point

I had put some serious thought into using ascorbic. However, my concern is that ascorbic acid has a potential to have a run away reaction when exposed to hydroxyls. With that said, I am still seriously thinking about it.

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/18/2015 at 13:54 point

Thanks for your input.

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Peter Walsh wrote 05/18/2015 at 03:26 point

The September 1967 issue of Scientific American has a column "Amateur Scientist" with directions on how to make a fuel cell (pg 131).

It's not available online (that I can find). If you look that up in the library, you might get some insight on how to build one using more readily available materials. Any university library should have it.

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M. Bindhammer wrote 05/18/2015 at 03:50 point

December 1960 issue of Science and Mechanics magazine:

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Peter Walsh wrote 05/18/2015 at 04:05 point

Now *that's* an interesting article. Ion-exchange resin is cheap, and available on eBay. Thanks for that :-)

(Note to self: Explore ion-exchange mechanisms and applications once the HackadayPrize is over.)

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M. Bindhammer wrote 05/18/2015 at 06:29 point

Instead of PtCl4 you can use PdCl2. Preparation:

Many surgical instruments are made of Palladium alloys. You might get some

discarded ones from your local hospital.

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/18/2015 at 13:57 point

Woot thank you.

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/18/2015 at 13:55 point

I will have to see if I can dig this article up. 

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/18/2015 at 13:57 point

Thanks again for your input.

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arko wrote 05/13/2015 at 21:57 point

Have you tried any doped (with other chemicals) Nafion membranes? If I recall correctly, there are several variations of Nafion that research groups have made (maybe commercial too) where other additives are doped into the membrane to increase performance, lifetime, etc.

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/13/2015 at 22:38 point

No I haven't. I haven't the slightest clue where to get Nafion in is particle form.  If you stumble across a cheap source let me know.  

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Sophi Kravitz wrote 05/13/2015 at 20:45 point

thumbs up for safety

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/13/2015 at 21:39 point

thumbs up for keeping thumbs! :)

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surubarescu wrote 05/13/2015 at 10:09 point

I could be wrong, but how you'll get pressurized hydrogen and oxygen in those poor areas? 

Using photovoltaic panels to split the water in H2 and O2 has a small yield and you'll need to pressurize the gases, another power hungry process. 

I think that a better way is to use a combination of solar heater to rise a reservoir water's temperature (and to distillate it as a first step) during the day and get electrical power form it using Seebeck effect (reverse Peltier) during the night. Put the reservoir under ground to have it insulated and find the easier valve combination to pump out cold water during the day and hot water during the night (so you'll have 2 pipes going in, one close to the top, one close to the bottom). Depending on the need and on resources available you can size various parts of this installation to fit the current situation and also to allow further expansion (i.e. you can add more solar heaters when available to speed up the heating process. 

The only resource needed on long term is sunny days, water being needed only to fill up the reservoir one time. Perhaps you'll need a small pump during the day to rise the cold water to the heater, but this can be powered by a small solar panel. During the night, hottest water is already at the top of the reservoir and if the insulation is good, it will rise up to the highest piping element. 

Hmm, it just popped in my mind: you can use a Stirling engine (heated by the sun) with a alternator connected to a bank of batteries (both from car wrecks), but i have no idea about the efficiency of this solution. Or you can use the Stirling engine to pump the water in my 1st contraception. 

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/13/2015 at 13:13 point

Another was to get hydrogen gas is from natural gas and propane. Most place on earth have access to one and/or the other.

I really dig the idea of using Stirling engine to pressurize gas. It's efficient and low friction.

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surubarescu wrote 05/13/2015 at 15:57 point

Still got the problem of getting clean O2 (someone here talked about poisoning the catalyst with other components of air). And natural gas, propane and so on are limited resources. 

Another way is to create a tall chimney with a large base that is heated by the sun (think of a Gauss curve with the tip cut out). All the hot air goes up to the chimney, which hosts a turbine near the top. This way you don't need a coolant. 

I know that this is a big project, but usually efficiency grows with the size of the plant.

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/13/2015 at 21:35 point

I see where your going. access to the required oxygen is one of the reasons I like the idea of photovoltaic powered electrolysis. Then you have the chemically correct amount of hydrogen to oxygen. Another general concern, that I have how to re-ionize the waste water if it is recycled back into the system. 

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Jehu wrote 05/12/2015 at 06:02 point

Very interested in this project. I'm looking forward to your results for the membrane as I've been trying to figure out a cheap one for a Direct Ethanol Fuel Cell. Things I've been looking at are seperators from Lead Acid and LiPoly batteries, Plaster of Paris and PVA. 

Hard Drives are a great source of Platinum, Cobalt and Aluminium as long as they are over 20GB ones. The way I'd get the Pt out is to snap the platters, submerse in NaOH to react the Al, wash and roast the Pt foil and then react with Aqua Reiga to make a chloro platinate salt. 

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/12/2015 at 13:30 point

I like the way you think sir. That's one of the ideas I had for sourcing platinum. I recently found an article about researchers using nickle as a fuel cell catalyst.

I have also been kicking around an idea using fat in the exchange membrane, but that is novel at best.

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Jehu wrote 05/15/2015 at 03:30 point

One thing to remember with refining precious metals is that you are using hazardous chemicals. Aqua Regia will fume red Nitrogen dioxide so a fume hood is a must if you want to save your lungs. However this can be recycled to make more Nitric Acid for the Aqua Regia. 

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/15/2015 at 13:09 point


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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/11/2015 at 16:46 point

Just wanted to apologize for not posting anything this weekend. I didn't get anything done as my wife graduated from nursing school, and Mother's Day activities. Keep following, real progress coming soon. 

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Dylan Bleier wrote 05/07/2015 at 13:44 point

Does hydrogen really have no smell?  When I run an electrolyzer, there's always a sharp smell – maybe that's nascent atomic hydrogen or oxygen...

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PointyOintment wrote 05/11/2015 at 05:29 point

It could be ozone. Does it smell the same as a brushed DC motor running at high speed?

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Dylan Bleier wrote 05/11/2015 at 13:03 point

I think that's a distinctly different smell.  ozone is harsher on your nose and lungs while this smell sort of tickles your nose

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/11/2015 at 16:42 point

I always attributed the smell of an electrolyzer and on the oxidization of the metal on the anode and cathode. And potentially a reaction with any dissolved electrolytic material.

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Starhawk wrote 05/05/2015 at 23:42 point

Hey, Charlie -- you should seriously put this on the Hackaday Tip Line. Just sayin'.

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/06/2015 at 01:32 point

Thank you for the vote of confidence. Maybe after I have some of the builddone. Right gut now it's not at a place where I'd want to present it.

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Starhawk wrote 05/06/2015 at 18:47 point

Your project, your call... but this is very exciting stuff if you ask me.

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/13/2015 at 22:39 point

Thanks again

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Dylan Bleier wrote 05/05/2015 at 00:30 point

ok, so how will you do this?  

a low temperature (80ºC) cell is probably going to need an ionomer for a membrane.  those are often expensive DuPont products like Nafion, but there are cheaper options such as Surlyn (and others) used in various applications, and could probably be substituted for expensive Nafion in a cheap DIY experiment.   

And while good transition metal catalysts like the cobalt phosphate and nickel nitrate formulations developed a few years back out of Dan Nocera's lab are probably usable as hydrogen catalysts, I dk if there is really anything good out there for the oxygen half reaction other than platinum or other super expensive things.  However, if you are looking to use recycled materials, you could probably extract noble metals for your catalyst from old catalytic converters.

you should decide what chemistry you are using:  acidic, or alkaline, or something else.

also, you NEED a hydrogen source and a way to store the hydrogen without blowing yourself up.  your best bet there is going to be an electrolyzer of some sort and special non-sparking pumps.  that setup could be powered by solar panels.

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/05/2015 at 00:49 point

I love it. Great questions!

I plan on using an acidic PEM. I have a few ideas for it, but I plan on using easy to source Teflon with a recycled platinum catalyst in my first design. I don't want to give away too much at this point, but I should have the first prototype PEM by the end of this weekend I believe. And you are correct, I do plan on using a water electrolyzer to source the hydrogen and oxygen.

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Dylan Bleier wrote 05/05/2015 at 03:41 point

cool.  I dk how you recycle catalysts.  sounds like fun.  I didn't know you could use Teflon for a PEM membrane.  I'm sure there's a ton of membrane technology I don't know about.  

I took a class on fuel cells and some of the design points I learned about are: 

-prevent overheating, but run it at a temperature around 80ºC (but not boiling hot!) to make diffusion occur quickly

-prevent the H2 and O2 from ever meeting (if the membrane breaks due to overpressure on one side, of if it is too permeable, this could lead to mixing of H2 in air which could explode) 

-saturation of the O2 electrode with water generated can be a problem because it will make it hard for the O2 to diffuse across the coating to where it can react, and it can cause too much diffusion of water to the H2 side

-drying out the membrane will make H+ diffusion difficult.  Nafion is specially designed to contain interconnected pockets of water surrounded by sulfate groups that make it easier for the H+ to travel across

-control moisture content, velocity, pressure of gases coming in....

-control the flow rate of the hydrogen to minimize fuel waste (some H2 flows through or diffuses across the membrane and is wasted); slightly non-stoichiometric mixes give optimal conversion efficiency while more fuel-rich mixtures can give more power at poorer efficiency 

-acidic and alkaline chemistries are both corrosive so resistant materials must be used, each chemistry has its advantages

-some catalysts including platinum can be poisoned over time by trace carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and other crap in the air; this may be more or less of an issue depending on air quality, but mission-critical PEM systems use only pure oxygen.  it only takes 10 ppm of CO to poison platinum.

-the kind of catalyst used is usually platinized carbon; it can be applied by spraying on a solution of it in an organic solvent which is then allowed to evaporate

-a PEM cell relies on diffusion in every layer, so you can apply Fick's Law gratuitously

-there's a ton of factors that go into the cell voltage and power.... including pressure of gasses, concentration of acid, temperature, thickness of membrane, saturation of membrane and electrodes, surface area of electrodes, etc..... this can be both measured and calculated in various ways

-PEM is a decent technology because H+ diffuses the fastest of any ion; alkaline is also good because both H+ and OH- diffuse via a "hopping mechanism"

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/05/2015 at 03:53 point

Thanks for all of the info. There's still quite a it I don't know but I was tired of just thinking about it.

"Discovery requires experimentation." -Dr Whiteha

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Starhawk wrote 05/04/2015 at 18:37 point

This is pretty cool. One skull for you!

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/04/2015 at 18:40 point

Thank you sir!

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Starhawk wrote 05/04/2015 at 18:41 point

I'm not sure I'm fancy or accomplished enough to be called 'sir'... but you're welcome, nonetheless :P

I look forward to hearing more about your scavenged and junk-built fuel cell :)

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/04/2015 at 20:33 point

Thanks again. By any chance do you have any experience with drilling or cutting hard drive patters? I'm not sure what the best method would be.

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Starhawk wrote 05/04/2015 at 20:34 point

Sorry, no...

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/04/2015 at 20:43 point

No worries.

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xobmo wrote 05/04/2015 at 23:40 point

Are you just wanting to make a hole?  Or route a shape?  I have some sitting right here, I'll go outside and see how I can drill/destroy them and report back.

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xobmo wrote 05/05/2015 at 01:01 point

seems to be working with my carbide 1/16th inch 4 flute mill.  didn't have time to do more today.

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Chali Baicunn wrote 05/13/2015 at 22:41 point

Thank you for the info. Sorry I didn't reply sooner. I thought I had, but noticed I hadn't.

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