The United States Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded Dr. Gianfranco DiGiuseppe, Mechanical Engineering faculty, with a grant for about $200,000 to continue his research in nanomaterials for solid oxide fuel cell applications. The grant will provide funding for one graduate and one co-op student for the next 18 months.
“Solid oxide fuel cells are an upcoming technology,” DiGiuseppe said. “They have made several strides over recent years in the power generation industry, as well as other applications, but the technology is still at the prototype stage and not fully commercialized.”
DiGiuseppe has been working with fuel cell technologies since his graduate studies at the Illinois Institute of Technology, more than 20 years ago. Fuel cells are similar to batteries in that they have an anode, an electrolyte, and a cathode and are both used to power up devices. However, batteries must be recharged or replaced on a regular basis whereas fuel cells can run continuously without recharging as long as fuel and air are prevalent.
Additionally, fuel cells are usually cleaner and more environmentally friendly technologies than traditional sources of energy. For example, fuel cells that use hydrogen as a fuel produce zero pollution. Fuel cells can also fulfill several markets. They can be used in power plants, individual houses, in cellphone and automobiles like the Honda FCX Clarity, the Chevrolet Equinox, among others.
DiGiuseppe’s expertise is in solid oxide fuel cells. This new grant will allow him to continue his pursuit to develop and improve fuel cell systems for residential and power plant applications.
“The awarded proposal is about testing new materials. They are generally called nanomaterials or simply ceramics,” he said. “By discovering, preparing, and studying new materials, we seek to enhance the performance, reliability, and robustness of solid oxide fuel cells for commercial applications.”
Research in the field attempts to improve the electrochemical performance, ability and longevity of fuel cells as they are expected to run for a long time, especially solid oxide fuel cells. For example, coal power plants can be inefficient while producing a significant amount of pollution. By transferring these plants to a solid oxide fuel system, the efficiency of the plant can go up to 50 percent or higher depending upon the design of the plant while at the same time decreasing pollution.
“This project will result in advanced new cathodes that it will expedite the commercialization of solid oxide fuel cell systems for power plants because of improved cell reliability,” DiGiuseppe said.