Practical advances in microfluidic electrochemical energy conversion

Date created: 
Microfluidic fuel cell
Microfluidic flow battery
Power source
Co-laminar flow cell

Micro-fabrication technologies has enabled the inexpensive production of microchannels which has been utilized in electrochemical flow cells like fuel cells and flow batteries. These offer simplicity and cost benefits as they utilize co-laminar flow for flowing streams separation rather than a physical separator or membrane. This thesis aims to identify practical applications for viable utility of microfluidic flow cells and suggests their potential use for analytical platforms, disposable power sources or combined electrolyte functionalities such as cooling and powering of electronics. All advances reported in this work leverage microfluidic cell architectures with flow-through porous electrodes to achieve competitive performance with simplified, inexpensive device solutions. A previously reported microfluidic redox battery design is modified to form an analytical cell that is applied throughout this dissertation. The analytical cell designs have two separate cell portions which, when connected in parallel, enable in-situ characterization of the dual-pass design, allowing deeper understanding of the reactant conversion and crossover. When the two portions are connected in series, quantifying possible losses in flow cell arrays, such as shunt current, is allowed. The technology is also applied to explore flow cells with non-aqueous electrolytes, which generally enable higher cell voltages but have limited performance from high membrane resistance. The proposed membrane-less cell with non-aqueous electrolytes shows comparable performance with aqueous vanadium electrolytes. Moreover, a chemistry evaluation framework is applied to assess redox reactants and supporting electrolytes selection for biodegradable primary batteries. The selected quinone redox chemistry is demonstrated in a novel 1 V paper-based capillary flow cell, with flow-through porous electrodes, that is proven to be powerful, cheap, scalable and biodegradable and demonstrated to directly substitute a coin cell battery for powering a water quality sensor. This new class of batteries thus holds great promise to radically change the portable battery paradigm; from considering it a harmful waste to a source of biodegradable materials that could even nurture the environment by enriching soil and water beyond its life cycle. Lastly, a scaled co-laminar flow cell is shown for the first time and embedded in a printed circuit board for the application of simultaneous thermal and power management of mounted electronics. This demonstration has advantages in future high-density computers and enables new perspectives for near-term adoption.

Document type: 
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes. Copyright remains with the author.
Senior supervisor: 
Erik Kjeang
Applied Sciences: School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.