Cancer medicine of the future and next generation fuel cells – silica can be a problem solver in such widely different areas of application.

Silica is truly versatile and researchers constantly find new ways of using it. At Frontiers of Silica 2019, held at Chalmers University of Technology, we have asked some of them what they are working on. 

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Associate Professor Anna Martinelli from Chalmers University of Technology uses silica in her research, with the aim to make future fuel cells more efficient.

“For me, collaboration with industry is important. I cooperate with Nouryon who provides me with silica particles,” she says.

Anna Martinelli conducts research on new proton-conducting materials for the fuel cell technology of tomorrow. She explains that, with a silica-based nanoporous membrane filled with a protic ionic liquid, the fuel cell can become more efficient – and at the same time, the material costs can be reduced.

“Even if I’ve explored this for a long time, I’ve begun developing a new material concept in recent years. It focuses on trying to use ionic liquids instead of water, primarily as a proton-conducting electrolyte, but also to structure nanoporous silica,” she says and continues.

“The application we have in mind is fuel cells. Technically, this is very exciting. The hope is that we’ll find a material that can solve certain problems with today’s fuel cell technology – and then the fuel cells can be run at higher temperatures, which implies higher efficiency and stability.”

Anna Martinelli spoke about her research at the Frontiers of Silica Research symposium, which has become an international meeting place for researchers, companies and doctoral students who are interested in the multitude of possibilities of silica.

“Having an opportunity to speak for and discuss with others who understand the possibilities of silica is both interesting and relevant.”

So how does it look in terms of time. When does Anna Martinelli believe that her research and her colleagues’ research will take the next step?

“What we are doing now is still fundamental research, but if these materials work as well as we hope, we will like to test them in a real fuel cell within two years.”

Where do you think this can gradually be put to use? Where are the end users?

“It may be in many different products and applications. In the transportation industry, in mobile chargers for mobile phones and stationary power banks, but also in large power plants,” she says.

The silica she uses in her research is delivered as samples from Nouryon’s silica research lab. Anna also believes in future collaboration with Nouryon’s own researchers.

“Today, I get silica samples from them. In the future, we might be able to tailor-make new silica structures together. There are many exciting possibilities.”

Text by: Monica Rossing