The scientists from School of Engineering & Applied Science at the campus in St. Louis are working on "cleaner" fuel cells, which use hydrogen as fuel and air as an oxidant.
Vijay Ramani, the Roma B. and Raymond H. Wittcoff Distinguished Professor of Environment & Energy at the School of Engineering & Applied Science, said: "If you buy a device - a car, a cell phone - you want it to last as long as possible."
Yunzhu Zhang, a doctoral candidate in Ramani's lab, and study co-author, added: "By using fluorescence spectroscopy in conjunction with an optical fiber, we can quantify the oxidative free radicals generated inside the fuel cell, which work to break down the membrane."
The research is said to be the first to use an in situ approach to look at the inner membrane of the fuel cell.
Javier Parrondo, a postdoctoral researcher and research co-author, shared: "Since the free radicals that cause the fuel cell membrane degradation are so short-lived, and the anion exchange membranes are so thin, our novel in situ approach is key to better study, understand and prevent the chemical breakdowns that is occurring during fuel cell operation."
Whilst Ramani added: "The next step is to introduce antioxidant chemicals inside the fuel cell membranes, to see if they can reduce the rate at which these membranes break down."