This study examines the successful development of a combustion-driven thermal transpiration-based combustor and a self-sustaining gas pump system having no moving parts and using readily storable hydrocarbon fuel. A stacked configuration was then integrated into the combustor creating a self-sustaining power generation system. In recent years, power generation devices employing hydrocarbon fuels rather than electrochemical storage as energy feedstock have been studied extensively due to the much higher energy densities of hydrocarbon fuels than the best available batteries. While many devices have been proposed including internal combustion engines and gas turbines, they all require the use of air to obtain a higher energy density so that only one reactant (fuel) need be carried. Thermal transpiration was accomplished by meeting two essential conditions: (1) gas flow in the transitional or molecular regime using glass microfiber filters as transpiration membranes and (2) a temperature gradient through the membrane using catalytic combustion downstream of the membrane. A cubic combustor was designed to house the thermal transpiration membrane and develop into a self-sustaining gas pump system. Fuel/Air would feed through an inlet into a mixing chamber that would flow into the thermal guard containing the thermal transpiration membrane. The thermal guard was developed from a high thermal conductivity stainless steel made into a cubic formation by using a 3D printing process. This configuration allowed both fuel and air to be transpired through the membrane meaning it was not possible for any reactant flow to occur as a result of the fuel supply pressure and only the membrane could draw reactants into the device.
In addition to pumping, a single-chamber solid-oxide fuel cell (SC-SOFC) was incorporated into combustion driven thermal transpiration pumps to convert chemical or thermal energy into electrical energy for a self-contained portable power generation system. Experiments showed that transpiration pumps with larger porosity and larger overall size exhibited better performance, though membrane pore size had little effect. These results were quantitatively consistent with theoretical predictions. By exploiting the temperature and fuel/oxygen concentrations within the transpiration pump, the SOFC achieved a maximum power density of 40 mW/cm2. Despite being far lower than necessary for a power source to be competitive with batteries, this preliminary study signifies an on-going positive efficiency that has potential for improvement through optimizing SOFC technology.