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Technology professor promotes fuel-cell research to Kent State students

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Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 7:12 pm | Updated: 12:12 am, Wed Feb 12, 2014.

A Kent State College of Technology professor has found new ways to promote sustainability in the environment.

Professor Yanhai Du has been researching fuel cells       — electrochemical devices that directly convert chemical energy in a fuel to electricity — for more than 18 years. He said that he is very passionate about fuel cells and believes it is the most efficient electricity-generating technology to date.

“I see that our energy in this country is 80 percent fossil fuels,” Du said. “This causes 70 percent of electricity to burn due to fossil fuels, which can cause a lot of pollution. If we can use fuel cells, we are actually reducing over half of the carbon in the atmosphere.”

Du said that while fuel cells are the better solution, the public is skeptical of utilizing them because of the use of chemical hydrogen in the cells.

 “The platinum fuel cell is the only one that you have to use hydrogen for,” Du said. “With other fuel cells, like the one I am working on, you don’t have to use hydrogen. You can use natural gas, jet fuel, gasoline, which is something the public is not aware of.”

Du developed a class based on his research for the Spring 2014 semester called Fuel Cell Technologies and Applications. The class currently has three students.  Du said that the course provides students with a better understanding of the cells and his research.

“Students have to know what fuel cells are and how to reduce the fuel cell’s cost,” Du said. “On the technology side, the class will help technology students be better equipped for their careers.”

Junior applied engineering major Evan Palcho said one of the reasons he decided to take the course was Du’s credentials.

“A big thing for me was that he has a lot of industry experience,” Palcho said. “He’s very knowledgeable of the things we talk about.”

Senior technology major Joseph Holland said he has seen fuel cells used in ways the public doesn’t know about while taking the class.

“Fuel cells are used on a lot of our transportation,” Holland said. “A lot of buses are starting to use it now.”

Senior technology major Bradley Ott said he decided to take Du’s course after learning what fuel cells are capable of.

“The research is definitely in its infancy,” Ott said. “It is an emerging technology, and its implications for the future are full of endless possibilities.”

Moving forward, Du said he wants to continue to use his research to make people more aware of fuel cells before other countries begin to use them to a greater extent and surpass the United States.

 “In the past, other countries have caught on to different forms energy technology, like solar energy, leaving us to try and catch up with them,” Du said. “I don’t want to see that happen with fuel cells. Ohio has a very strong support for fuel cells because a lot of companies need them. I am very glad that I came to Kent State to do my research. Fuel cell research is very competitive and the university has been very supportive to me over the years.”

Elizabeth Randolph is the technology reporter for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at erandol3@kent.edu.

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