Like ordinary American citizens, researchers at Kettering University have cast a weary eye at sources of foreign oil due to the volatile conditions our economy experiences with increases in gas prices. Because of pricing fluctuations in fuel costs, the public perception regarding the use of alternative sources of energy may become even more curious if sources such as fuel cells achieve the success researchers claim they will have.
Car companies, which have begun to understand the importance of the economical, social and environment impact of traditional engine use in society, now have a vested interest in the research and application of alternative fuels to drive their products.
One such company is Ford Motor Co., which recently contributed $100,000 to Kettering for the development of the Center for Fuel Cell Systems and Powertrain Integration. Dr. K.J. Berry, department head and professor of Mechanical Engineering, said the success of this center would depend on what he characterized as "a collaborative effort of many faculty, departments, universities, corporate partners, local and federal agencies. We are working with a number of organizations and industry leaders to develop a broad-based support network. Some of these institutions include Mott Community College, Baker College, Henry Ford Community College, the University of Michigan-Flint, the Genesee Growth Alliance and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation." Berry also noted that by building this kind of support network, the center has the potential to become a driving force for economic development and jobs in Genesee County.
The University is also contributing significant resources to the development of the center and actively seeking additional funding through federal and state channels, and through the cultivation of relationships with leading corporations interested in fuel cell development. Berry is pleased with the support shown by Kettering and all partners thus far, and looks forward to the development of the center's two most significant aspects: creation of an educational and research program.
"This center will help Kettering work toward the establishment of an interdisciplinary undergraduate degree minor available for engineering and applied sciences students. The interdisciplinary minor in power electronics and energy conversion will focus on the technical disciplines and technologies required by a fuel cell systems engineer," he explained. "The inter-departmental offering will focus on advanced study in the thermal sciences, power electronics, power semi conductors, fuel cell chemistry and fuel cell safety concerns among other topics." He also said that he looks forward to the participation of Ford and other partners in the development of this new curriculum.
Kettering plans to offer graduate and undergraduate education programs that incorporate the center's fuel cell test stand. The research component will aid in the validation of design optimization and simulation studies for efficient fuel cell designs. The center's fuel cell test stand, Berry noted, will help researchers study different coolant materials, power electronics management, thermal, water, air and fuel flow control strategies, and efficient heat exchanger designs.
Although faculty from the Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Industrial Manufacturing Engineering and Business departments are excited about the prospect of this center, Berry is quick to note that there's much work still ahead. One aspect of this work includes the creation of the Kettering University Fuel Cell Systems Laboratory Industry Advisory Board, which he hopes Ford Motor Co. agrees to serve on.
"Like all corporate partners, Ford would be a tremendous asset to this board because the company can take a proactive part in determining the strategic direction of the center, and in the identification of important resources to support the center," he said. "We view the creation of this center not just as a Kettering initiative, but as an endeavor that can help the automotive industry, the environment, and the communities in which we live and work. It truly has the potential to positively impact everyone."
To learn more about Kettering's Center for Fuel Cell Systems and Powertrain Integration, contact the Department of Mechanical Engineering at (810) 762-9791, or visit the department web site at www2.kettering.edu/acad/mech-eng/.
Goals of the Center for Fuel Cell Systems and Powertrain Integration
Ford's contribution will allow Kettering to train students on the latest state-of-the-art testing equipment and support the University's fuel cell education minor. In support of these efforts, the center's goals are three-fold:
- To create a state-of-the-art hydrogen-powered facility for the testing and integration of stationary fuel cells for consumer product systems, and to support the State of Michigan's NextEnergy initiative by providing a fuel cell vehicle prototype demonstration, testing and powertrain integration service.
- To develop the first full-scale educational training program dedicated to preparing the future workforce and retraining the nation's existing workforce.
- To conduct leading-edge research that spans the range of potential problems such as the cost of manufacturing fuel cell systems, perceived public safety issues and reliability and infrastructure needs. This goal also includes research into technologies necessary to propel fuel cell development such as systems modeling, testing and safety protocol, fuel cell membranes, MEMS sensors integrated with electrical signal processing, electric power integration, and manufacturing processes, as well as thermal, water, air and fuel flow control strategies.
Written by Gary J. Erwin