updated: 10/11/2006 3:15:37 PM

IUPUI, U.S. Army Partner on Fuel Cell Technology

Inside INdiana Business Report

Indiana University-Purdue University (IUPUI) will receive $1.5 million to collaborate with the U.S. Army in the development of fuel cells powered by ethanol and grain alcohol.

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IUPUI says the project could mean that cell phones, laptops, military vehicles and radios could one day run on electrical power from corn grown in Indiana.

Source: Inside INdiana Business

Press Release

INDIANAPOLIS – With $1.5 million from the recently approved military budget, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis researchers will collaborate with the U.S. Army in the development of fuel cells powered by ethanol, a grain alcohol.

Their success would mean that the cell phones and laptops, as well as military vehicles and radios, could one day run on electrical power from corn grown in Indiana.

“The project – development of renewable energy sources through fuel cell technology – will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and foreign oil and thus significantly enhance our nation’s energy security,” said IUPUI researcher Andrew Hsu. Hsu is associate dean for research and graduate programs in the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI and a professor of mechanical engineering.

The joint project calls for the IUPUI Advanced Energy Research Laboratory, a part of the School of Engineering & Technology, and the Fuel Cell Program within the Army Research Laboratory’s Sensors & Electronic Devices Directory at Ft. Detrick, Md., to develop fuel cells directly powered by ethanol, and reformers that can convert ethanol into hydrogen to power hydrogen fuel cells. Ethanol can be made from corn and other agricultural products.

“Currently almost all of the hydrogen used in the world is made from fossil fuels,” Hsu says. “The ethanol reformer proposed in this project promises to help to further our cause of creating a renewable hydrogen economy. Not only is ethanol renewable, it also is cleaner and safer than other fuels, making it attractive for both military and commercial applications.”

Indiana is committed to the development of corn and soybean-based ethanol as a renewable energy source. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Rep. Julia Carson, D-Ind., were instrumental in securing funding for the Fuel Cell Program as part of the $436.6 billion military spending bill. The Fiscal Year 2007 Defense Appropriations Bill was approved by Congress on Sept. 29 and signed into law by the President Bush.

“Renewable fuel cells offer benefits to soldiers, farmers, scientists and all of us who want to reduce dependence on fossil fuels,” said IUPUI Chancellor Charles R. Bantz. “This project is a terrific example of IUPUI’s creative faculty doing research that translates into improving daily life.”

A fuel cell, a device that converts chemicals into useable energy, is very similar to a battery. Unlike a battery that needs to be recharged or discharged, a fuel cell can work continuously as long as fuel is fed into it. An ethanol-powered fuel cell converts the chemical energy stored in ethanol to electrical energy directly without going through high temperature combustion.

The by-product of ethanol fuel cell reaction is water and carbon dioxide. The amount of carbon dioxide that an ethanol fuel cell emits balances the amount that the corn absorbed during its growth, so there is no net negative impact to the environment, Hsu said.

According to Hsu, there is a worldwide rush to develop fuel cell technology.

“Fuel cell technology can replace batteries used in the field by soldiers, with the advantage of low signature and quick fuel replacement with no charging time required. Backpack size fuel cells could replace larger diesel generator sets that are currently towed on a trailer,” the professor said. “Power generated from fuel cells can also be used for robots and autonomous ground vehicles, future soldier systems, micro-air vehicles, and other army vehicles.”

For commercial use, ethanol fuel cells could power cell phones, laptops and generators used in farming and construction.

The IUPUI team researchers will include Hsu and other faculty, post-doctoral fellows and graduate students. IUPUI undergraduate students currently funded by the Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Research Institute in the School of Engineering & Technology and the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program will also work in the project.

The research team will ask Indiana companies that can assist the development of the ethanol fuel cell technology to participate in the project, Hsu said. For example, currently the IUPUI-Army team is negotiating with TAWAS ICMS, a Noblesville, Ind., company specializing in the development, testing and applications of electrochemical systems for transportation and other uses.

Under a 21st Century Grant, IUPUI scientists previously developed research methods and computer software for the design of active materials for fuel cell applications, and is currently applying this technology in the development of new non-precious-metal catalysts with direct ethanol fuel cell use in mind, Hsu said.

Source: Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

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