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Design And Implementation Of A Fuel Cell Laboratory For Freshman Engineering Students

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Design of Lab Experiments

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.401.1 - 10.401.8



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Paper Authors

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Dave Confer

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Steven York

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Michael Gregg

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Jeffrey Connor

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

Design and Implementation of a Fuel Cell Laboratory Experience for Freshman Engineering Students

SC. York, Dave Confer, Jeff Connor and Mike Gregg

Department of Engineering Education Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The Department of Engineering Education (ENGE) at Virginia Tech conducts several hands-on exercises in the Frith Freshman Design Laboratory throughout the academic year. A recent addition to this design laboratory experience is a laboratory on fuel cells. This laboratory experience focuses on the operation and applications of fuel cells as a power source and allows the students to handle and operate their own bench-scale prototype fuel cell. During a 50-minute visit to the Frith Lab, students are guided through a brief background lecture before teams of two each receive a proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) on which to conduct their own experiments to investigate this important and emerging technology.

The PEMFC apparatus is powered by hydrogen that is produced in the laboratory via solar-powered electrolysis of water where the solar energy is provided by a sun lamp. This experimental setup allows demonstration of the entire green energy cycle to the students. Load boxes are used to perform measurements that are more detailed and generate the characteristic fuel cell voltage curves.

Exposing engineering students to emerging technologies is one way of keeping them interested and engaged in their education, especially when the experience is a hands-on activity. This fuel cell exercise offers students the opportunity to handle and operate their own small fuel cell unit and offers a means to educate virtually every first year engineering student on an important alternative energy source. In this paper, the details of funding, budget, equipment and implementation will be fully described.


The importance of active learning (hands-on) experiences as a part of the engineering undergraduate education experience is well established. The challenge for today’s educators is to design active learning experiences for students that fit within the curriculum framework and are logistically and economically feasible1,2. The proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) lab described herein is a hands-on laboratory experience that incorporates emerging technology into a useful and interesting activity that may be used as is or modified to suit specific needs/circumstances. The PEMFC lab is intended for freshman engineering students, but can easily be adapted to other educational circumstances.

Virginia Tech has used the Frith Freshman Design Laboratory as a venue for many active learning experiences designed to stimulate the interests of first-year engineering students. Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright 2005, American Society for Engineering Education

Confer, D., & York, S., & Gregg, M., & Connor, J. (2005, June), Design And Implementation Of A Fuel Cell Laboratory For Freshman Engineering Students Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14903

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