Kettering grad first student to earn Ph.D. in fuel cells

By Website Administrator | Sep 26, 2003

Timothy C. Simmons Jr., a student who earned a master's degree with a concentration in fuel cells from Kettering in 1998, successfully defended his Ph.D. dissertation in August at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

Dr. Etim Ubong, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering (ME) at Kettering, dreamed some years ago that the University might one day pave the way for the creation of a state-of-the-art facility for the study of fuel cells. Five years later the school opened the C.S. Mott Engineering and Science Center, which houses the Center for Fuel Cell Systems and Powertrain Integration, a facility that allows researchers and students to conduct in-depth study in alternative fuels and fuel cells.

Dream number one complete. Dream number two for Ubong? Teaching students about the impact and importance of fuel cell systems, and perhaps one day watching some of them move on to pursue graduate degrees in the discipline.

Dream number two complete. Ubong recently received word that Timothy C. Simmons Jr., a student he advised while earning his master's degree with a concentration in fuel cells from Kettering in 1998, successfully defended his Ph.D. dissertation in August at the University of Florida, Gainesville. The title of his thesis is "Characteristics of Hydrogen Production via Isooctane Autothermal Reforming For Fuel Cell Vehicles."

This was part of a grand plan Ubong had for Kettering's role in the study of fuel cell technology. But he admits the road to seeing the first Kettering student achieve a Ph.D. in fuel cell systems has been somewhat long and peppered with potholes.

"I had been studying fuel cells for some years before we as an institution started looking into them," Ubong said. "At the time when Tim approached me, I wasn't quite ready to initiate a fuel cell area of study here at Kettering. That was in 1997 and we hadn't the resources and infrastructure available to undertake such an important program. But he was so enthusiastic and excited to engage in his study that I felt motivated as well, and through Dr. Jim Luxon's office (Office of Academic Programs and Research), I received a $5,000 program development grant, which got our fuel cell efforts going."

With this initial and crucial funding, Ubong was able to purchase a small fuel cell and attend conferences and meetings focused on fuel cell research. But testing on the fuel cell would have to wait until an appropriate facility became available, which took place with the July 2003 opening of the C.S. Mott Engineering and Science Center. For Ubong, having a student who graduated from Kettering and go on to receive his Ph.D. in fuel cells is a critical step in establishing the University as a leader in the field.

"Tim represents our first student who received a Ph.D. in fuel cells, which ties directly to our ambitions for the program," Ubong explained. "I believe our school is in a position to become a leader in this field because of our faculty, experience with Mechanical Engineering and other fields. If we can graduate more and more students who go on to pursue advanced degrees in fuel cell research and alternative fuels like Tim, we will really open the eyes of many people in the field."

This is an aspect to fuel cell research that inspires Ubong and other Kettering faculty to immerse themselves in a study of this technology. For example, Dr. Jim Gover, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Dr. K. Joel Berry, professor and head of the ME Dept., and Ubong will present papers at the Electrical Insulation Conference/Electrical Manufacturing & Coil Winding 2003 Exposition Sept. 23-25 in Indianapolis. Gover will direct a session titled "Technical, Economic, Safety and Political Challenges to Commercialization of Fuel Cells" and also present two papers titled "Commercialization Issues in the Balance of Plant and the Fuel Cell" and "Public Policies to Accelerate the Adoption of Fuel Cells." In addition, Berry will present "Commercialization Barriers of Fuel Cells and the Hydrogen Storage." Ubong will also present "Safety Issues in Hydrogen Transportation" and "Federal and International Regulations Governing Transportation of Portable Fuel Cell Devices in Mass Transportation Systems" at this session as well.

Additionally, Kettering has already made an impact with participating schools and organizations that are working with NextEnergy (www.nextenergy.org), a Detroit-based organization led by former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer. NextEnergy works to advance a comprehensive set of actions to facilitate the understanding, research, development, commercialization and manufacturing of alternative energy technologies (AET) in Michigan and the nation. Ubong said that at the last NextEnergy conference in June of this year, attendees recognized Kettering as a leader in the research and study of fuel cell technology. "During that conference I realized that Kettering has a chance to step out in front of other schools in this area," he said. "We're already hearing that people view Kettering as a significant player in this field."

And for his former student Timothy Simmons Jr., Ubong hopes to keep him active with Kettering's fuel cell efforts. Future expectations and hopes that Ubong also has for the program include the development of additional courses in fuel cells and a working partnership with NextEnergy. He also hopes to obtain additional assistance in the form of financial and resource contributions to the fuel cell area, and establish a session on fuel cells for area high school teachers to develop a pool of potential students who may wish to pursue this discipline.

To learn more about Kettering's fuel cell research, visit the Fuel Cell Center for Powertrain Integration website at http://fuelcells.kettering.edu/.

Written by Gary J. Erwin
(810) 762-9538
gerwin@kettering.edu