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A Fuel Cell Systems Course For Undergraduate Engineering Students

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Curricular Developments in Energy Education

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.29.1 - 15.29.10

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Paper Authors

author page

Patrick Cunningham Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Fuel Cell Systems Course for Undergraduate Engineering Students


A fuel cell course has been developed for junior/senior mechanical engineering students. The focus of the course is on systems level modeling of the fuel cell stack and the balance of plant. Lectures, assignments, and labs are geared toward introducing students to fuel cells and developing the basics of thermodynamics, electrochemistry, and other disciplines needed to explain fuel cell behavior. As components and subsystems are covered in the course students will build the corresponding sub-models. Emphasis is placed on deciding between alternative models or modeling approaches. Relevant technical papers are brought into the classroom to facilitate these discussions. This also serves to build student confidence in engaging current technical literature, critically analyzing the work, and making appropriate use of the results. By the end of the term students individually completed their own fuel cell models, which were suitable for dynamic performance prediction and control system development. Along the way, students gained valuable experience bringing together the often fractured topics of their engineering education into the single fuel cells application. While much of the course focused on the technical details of fuel cells, specific content was developed to address macro-issues affecting fuel cell technology and research. These societal, environmental, and economic factors were explored with grounding in technical knowledge. In this paper the formal course learning objectives, syllabus, assignments, and labs are presented. Examples of learning modules tied to each of the learning objective are given. The rationale for the course organization and content is also discussed and lists of lab equipment, references, and other resources are provided.


Fuel cells have been a part of the space program since the 1950s and the NASA Gemini missions. However, they have only relatively recently entered the public consciousness amid discussions of reducing harmful emissions and reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Fuel cells show promise in both of these areas primarily as replacements to internal combustion engines, with a couple of important caveats. Proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells will only produce water for emissions when they run on pure hydrogen and oxygen (or air). Other fuels are possible besides hydrogen, such as methanol, but result other emissions such as carbon dioxide. If using hydrogen fuel, the pure hydrogen must come from somewhere and the production process consumes a significant amount of energy. The only truly renewable source of hydrogen is electrolyzing water into hydrogen and oxygen using renewable energy such as wind or solar energy. Currently, most of the pure hydrogen produced comes from reforming natural gas, a fossil fuel source.1

If fuel cells are to replace some portion internal combustion engines as energy conversion devices, engineers will be needed to study, refine, and design them. Specifically, in automotive applications internal combustion engine powertrains have benefitted from more than 100 years of development, and consumers have grown accustomed to the performance, durability, and longevity the industry have achieved. Fuel cells must attain similar performance, durability, and

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