In the 1990s, the idea of developing miniaturized devices that integrate functions other than what normally are carried out at the laboratory level was conceived, and the so-called “lab-on-a-chip” (LOC) devices emerged as one of the most important research areas. LOC devices exhibit advantages related to the use of microfluidic channels such as small sample and reagent consumption, portability, low-power consumption, laminar flow, and higher surface area/volume ratio that enhances both thermal dissipation and electrochemical kinetics. Fuel cells are electrochemical devices that convert chemical energy to electrical energy. These are considered as one of the greener ways to generate electricity because typical fuel cells produce water and heat as the main reaction byproducts. The technical challenges to develop systems at the microscale and the advantages of microfluidics exhibited an important impact on fuel cells for several reasons, mainly related to avoid inherent problems of gaseous-based fuel cells. As a result, the birth of a new type of fuel cells as microfluidic fuel cells (MFCs) took place. The first microfluidic fuel cell was reported in 2002. This MFC was operated with liquid fuel/oxidant and had the advantage of the low laminar flow generated using a “Y” microfluidic channel to separate the anodic and cathodic streams, resulting in an energy conversion device that did not require a physical barrier to separate both streams. This electrochemical system originated a specific type of MFCs categorized as membraneless also called colaminar microfluidic fuel cells. Since that year, numerous works focused on the nature of fuels, oxidants and anodic/cathodic electrocatalysts, and cell designs have been reported. The limiting parameters of this kind of devices toward their use in portable applications are related to their low cell performances, small mass activity, and partial selectivity/durability of electrocatalysts. On the other hand, it has been observed that the cell design has a high effect on the cell performance due to internal cell resistances and the crossover effect. Furthermore, current technology is growing faster than last centuries and new microfabrication technologies are always emerging, allowing the development of smaller and more powerful microfluidic energy devices. In this chapter, the application of microfluidics in membraneless fuel cells is addressed in terms of evolution of cell designs of miniaturized microfluidic fuel cells as a result of new discoveries in microfabrication technology and the use of several fuels and electrocatalysts for specific and selective applications.
Part of the book: Advances in Microfluidics