January 23, 2007

$2.7 Million Grant Helps Fuel-Cell Studies

By: by Rochester Institute of Technology


The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded RIT $2.7 million to explore improving automotive fuel-cell performance.

Satish Kandlikar, the James E. Gleason Professor of Mechanical Engineering in RIT's Kate Gleason College of Engineering, is the principal investigator for the project, Visualization of Fuel Cell Water Transport and Performance Characterization. Collaborators include Navalgund Rao, associate professor in RIT's Center for Imaging Science; Jeffrey Allen, assistant professor of mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics at Michigan Technological University; and Thomas Trabold, senior research engineer with General Motors Corp. Fuel Cell Development Center in Honeoye Falls.

The three-year project, beginning next January, will also involve co-op, master's degree and doctoral students. It is among $100 million in hydrogen research and development projects recently announced by the U.S. Energy Department supporting President Bush's Advanced Energy Initiative.

The award was announced by U.S. Rep. Randy Kuhl Jr. (R-Hammonds-port). "The groundbreaking work that RIT and GM are doing in alternative fuels right here in our backyard is impressive and vital to our nation's energy independence," Kuhl says.

Using fuel cells with visual access and advanced diagnostic methods, researchers will seek to enhance automotive fuel-cell performance by exploring water transport and accumulation, leading to the development of methods to minimize water accumulation and freeze damage that result in degraded performance and material durability.

"Developing alternative energy sources requires the latest technological tools to overcome complex scientific and engineering challenges," Kandlikar says. "We hope our efforts will contribute in advancing automotive hydrogen fuel-cell technology and allow the United States to gain leadership in the world market.

Fuel cells use hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity, with only water and heat as by-products. They can power portable devices, provide heat and electricity to buildings, and power vehicles with up to three times the efficiency of internal combustion technologies, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

"I am especially pleased and proud that RIT has received this grant, not only because it addresses an area of critical importance to the nation but also because it was earned through rigorous peer review," says Harvey Palmer, dean of RIT's Kate Gleason College of Engineering."