Tuesday, November 27, 2007
OU acquires a fuel cell test bench for SECS
By Dawn Pauli, staff writer
A new piece of equipment – a fuel cell test bench – has far-reaching benefits in the School of Engineering and Computer Science (SECS). Purchased with a gift from the DTE Energy Foundation, the test bench provides opportunities for research, the addition of a laboratory course and a partnership with another university.
“This is an important acquisition for OU because we will be able to develop an understanding of fuel cells and provide the ability to test fuel cell design performance using the test bench,” said Xia Wang, assistant professor, SECS. “The proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell has attracted considerable research interest and tremendous practical application due to its high power density and low emissions. We want to make sure that our engineering students and faculty researchers have a fundamental understanding of this technology.”
OU is adding a laboratory curriculum to an existing class and there is potential to add more laboratories to other theory-based disciplines of engineering including chemical, mechanical and electrical. The gift already provided five undergraduate engineering students the opportunity to design and test a fuel cell through the Research Experience for Undergraduates program funded by the National Science Foundation.
“There’s also a budding research partnership between an OU faculty member and a faculty member from the Georgia Institute of Technology,“ said Wang.
A new master’s level course, “Fundamentals of Fuel Cells,” will launch in Winter 2008. Students can apply textbook learning to research applications using more hands-on applications, instead of solely learning the theory in a classroom setting.
The manufacturer of the bench, Fuel Cell Technology Inc., trained two OU post-graduate students in Albuquerque, N.M. The students learned how to design and test fuel cells, run the test bench, and train other OU students.
“As a result of the training received, the two students were able to continue their research. The master’s level student was able to design and test his fuel cell. Without the test bench, the design would be only theoretical with some modeling work,” said Wang. “One Ph.D. student’s work will focus on developing a new material for the bipolar plate. The bipolar plate made of this material will be used to assemble a fuel cell and test it using the test bench. The impact of this research is to propose a new cost effective and elastic bipolar material.”