Thursday, January 22, 2009

Can Goretex Save the Hybrid Car?

Just when you thought Goretex was yesterday's breathable waterproof news, now they've jumped industries from outdoor clothing to fuel cells!

Sound ridiculous? Apparently not. Researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia have been working with the fabric to help reduce the price and improve the efficiency of hybrid cars.

From the article in the University World News:

"The breakthrough came about through the design of a fuel cell in which a specially coated form of Goretex is the key component. A fine layer of highly conductive plastic - a mere 0.4 of a micron thick or about 100 times thinner than a human hair - was deposited on the breathable fabric as part of a fuel cell with electrodes and a catalyst. Just as waste water vapour is drawn out of the Goretex to make hikers more comfortable and less prone to hypothermia, it is also able to 'breathe' oxygen into the fuel cell and into contact with the conductive plastic.

One of the researchers, Professor Doug MacFarlane, said the discovery was probably the most important development in fuel cell technology in the last 20 years. He said the benefits for the motoring industry and for motorists were that the new design removed the need for platinum, which is the catalyst and is currently central to manufacturing fuel cells. "

OK, so Goretex has always been expensive, but I guess it's a whole lot cheaper than platinum! The only concern I have is that if Goretex becomes a common component in cars, that will drive the price up even more and we'll all have to pay thousands of dollars for a decent rain jacket! But hey, it's for the good of the planet.


Jordan Cook said...

very interesting post. i think that the outdoor gear companies are potentially one of the best industries to drive green science. i'd give up my boots and hike with wet feet if i thought it would help drive fuel cell technology.
Cheers from Iowa

Mike said...

Hi Michelle. As far as raincoats are concerned, I think Goretex may be overrated, and much of its reputation is driven by marketing.

I'm not the world's expert, but I keep meeting people who comment that Goretex actually doesn't breathe once it gets wet, and I tend to notice this too -- my raincoat's been extremely soppy at times. Note that this means it's still fine if it's not raining, and it's very useful in snow and wind, and perhaps also in fuel cells.

I didn't understand the technical details of why this was until very recently, when Tristan Riley referenced a couple of paragraphs about Goretex construction (skip down the page to where the post mentions "Matt's theory of Goretex"). It's an interesting read.