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IAHE creates fuel cell stack, takes third place in national competition

Monday, October 4, 2010
IAHE creates fuel cell stack, takes third place in national competition
By Eric Reikowski, media relations assistant

OU's IAHE student organization took third place nationally in the first annual IAHE design competition.
Oakland University’s International Association for Hydrogen Energy (IAHE) chapter participated in the first annual IAHE design competition, claiming third place in a field of elite competitors, including runner-up Penn State University and overall winner Princeton University.

The team designed, constructed and tested a portable Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) fuel cell stack using a collection of numerical models, Computational Fluid Dynamic analysis and Computer Aided Design models.

With an estimated cost of $322, the fuel cell measures 5.95 × 5.95 × 1.95 cm in size, 0.275 kg in weight and can produce up to 12.5 watts, enough energy to power small devices such as cell phones or small laptop computers. The group submitted their design in a YouTube presentation and formal report.

“I think our team performed very well, especially under the circumstances,” said Kristopher Inman, president of Oakland’s IAHE chapter. “We had a much smaller budget and less access to fabrication equipment than our competition, but we still managed to create a fully functioning and safe portable fuel cell.”

The design team consisted of Zak Ahmad, Zhingyong Shi and Inman, all graduate students in Oakland’s mechanical engineering program. The trio worked on the fuel cell for three months, utilizing the Mechanical Engineering Department’s machine shop and Dr. Xia Wang’s fuel cell lab. Dr. Wang, the team’s faculty advisor, said the group overcame obstacles on the way to achieving a successful design.

The IAHE team works to design and build their compact fuel cell stack at Oakland University.
“The group experienced failures, such as misalignment and internal shorting through the course of the design,” said Dr. Wang, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “However, our students have excellent troubleshooting skills and eventually they were able to design a functional, economical and compact fuel cell stack. I am very proud of their achievement.”

This was the Oakland IAHE chapter’s first competition since forming in winter 2009. In addition to competing, the group has also taken a number of field trips to places such as the NEXT Energy Park in Southfield. They are currently building a solar-powered hydrogen generator, a device that produces energy without harming the environment.

“The generator will use plain water that will be split into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity from solar panels.” Inman explained. “We can then exhaust the oxygen and feed the hydrogen into a fuel cell to generate power. The fuel cell runs off this hydrogen, along with oxygen from the air, to form plain water. That’s the advantage of using hydrogen-based energy—it allows for a pollution-free closed chemical cycle, which is just a fancy way of saying that you get out only what you put in.”

For more information on the International Association of Hydrogen Energy, visit the website. To learn more about the Oakland’s IAHE chapter, visit the website or contact Inman at