University of Delaware launches fuel cell center
This hydrogen fuel cell powered bus is part of the University of Delaware's shuttle fleet.
Ajay Prasad is the founding director of the University of Delaware Center for Fuel Cell Research.
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8:03 a.m., Dec. 10, 2008----The University of Delaware has established the Center for Fuel Cell Research (CFCR) to improve the understanding of fuel cells and address critical issues and barriers to commercialization.

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The center will also provide undergraduate and graduate students with the opportunity to participate in fuel cell research and demonstration projects. Ajay Prasad, professor of mechanical engineering, founded the center and is serving as its first director.

CFCR research focuses on a broad range of topics in fuel cell and hydrogen infrastructure science and technology; the overall goal of the work is to improve performance and durability with novel materials, architectures, and operating strategies.

“Delaware is a great place to start a fuel cell center,” Prasad says. “We have a large number of people here at UD doing work related to this subject, and many of the major players in the fuel cell market are within a 50-mile radius of the University.”

The new center is housed in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and includes some 25 faculty members from the colleges of Engineering, Arts and Sciences, and Marine and Earth Studies.

Traditionally, fuel cell research was mostly done by electrochemists, but Prasad says that there are tremendous opportunities for engineers and material scientists as well.

“It is also necessary to involve diverse fields like biotechnology in fuel cell and hydrogen research,” he adds. “For example, photobiological water splitting using certain types of bacteria and sunlight might offer an exciting, renewable way to produce hydrogen in the future.”

Important components of the center's mission are technology transfer to industry and public outreach to educate the community about the benefits of fuel cells through programs such as the University's fuel cell bus. “By 2011, we should be up to four buses,” Prasad says, “and we also have plans to build two more hydrogen refueling stations, one in Wilmington and one in Dover.” There is already a station in Newark.

Prasad sees three barriers to widespread adoption of fuel cell technology: cost, durability, and the lack of a hydrogen infrastructure. CFCR research is addressing issues related to all three.

“Public acceptance is also an important issue,” Prasad says, “and the bus project has helped by increasing awareness. The presence of three filling stations in the state also has the potential to contribute to future efforts to attract fuel-cell related research and demonstration projects to Delaware.”

“I think that the University of Delaware will benefit from a timely confluence of political, industrial, and academic agendas centered on alternative energy approaches,” he continues. “The fuel cell effort is an important part of that.”

The CFCR is part of the overall energy research effort encompassed by the recently launched University of Delaware Energy Institute (UDEI).

Article by Diane Kukich