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An Undergraduate Research Experience In New Technology Commercialization Of Pem Fuel Cells

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Trends in Energy Conversion/Conservation

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.198.1 - 7.198.11

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Paper Authors

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Doug Ramers

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Main Menu Session 1346

An Undergraduate Research Experience in New Technology Commercialization of PEM Fuel Cells

Doug Ramers

University of North Carolina, Charlotte

In 1997, I was asked as a faculty member of Gonzaga University to participate on a project to develop a commercializable polymer exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) technology for power plants in the 1-10kw range. The project was managed, sponsored, and funded jointly by Washington Water Power (WWP) and the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute (SIRTI). Our Gonzaga engineering team, which included students, was asked to perform manufacturability analysis and redesign of the fuel cell and to design a manufacturing system. The rest of the team consisted of a project manager from WWP, a commercial partner in Boston with the PEM fuel cell technology and experience, chemists from both Gonzaga and Eastern Washington University, and a small electrical contracting firm.

We interviewed and hired four mechanical engineering students to work on the project: three rising seniors and one rising junior. The rising seniors had already acquired much of the fundamental knowledge necessary through their coursework. The rising junior provided continuity if the project continued beyond the first year. In general, the students were the top students in their class and had the enthusiasm, initiative, and maturity to work on a real engineering project. Over the next nine months they learned about fuel cell technology and many technical aspects of engineering work. They also learned about working in a business environment on a marginally planned and undirected research and development project.

A fuel cell is a device that produces electrical energy from an electrochemical reaction between externally supplied fuels and oxidizers. Grove1 first reported a successful fuel cell in 1839. Since then, researchers have investigated different types of electrodes, electrolytes, fuels and oxidants, and reaction kinetics affecting fuel cell performance. They have discovered that problems in thermo-fluids, material properties and geometry, electrical conductance and conversion, and manufacturing significantly influence fuel cell performance and economic viability. The technology benefited significantly from research for the space program and military applications since the 1960s. However, economic manufacturability and commercialization have not been overriding concerns in these publicly funded environments.

Despite the fact that we've been aware of the principles of fuel cell operation for more than 160 years, their widespread development and commercialization has been limited by materials, electrical power conversion technology, manufacturing techniques, and the relatively low cost of energy. This project was an attempt to develop the technologies to commercialize fuel cells.

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Ramers, D. (2002, June), An Undergraduate Research Experience In New Technology Commercialization Of Pem Fuel Cells Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada.

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