to a recent $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department
of Energy and continuing funding from the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the University
of South Florida's Clean Energy Research Center (CERC)
continues to pursue research to develop new materials
and processes to help produce hydrogen as a safe,
efficient and clean usable fuel while improving the
performance of existing hydrogen fuel cells.
At a time of skyrocketing oil prices and pressing
concerns about clean air, the development of a vehicle
power source that emits no pollutants has never been
more important. When burned in an engine as fuel,
hydrogen produces no emissions with water the only
byproduct. However, producing hydrogen is still expensive
and researchers are looking for less expensive and
more efficient ways of producing it.
To accomplish this, CERC is
collaborating with USF's Center for Ocean Technology
and the University of Florida's Solar Energy and Energy
Conversion lab in addressing some of the challenges
laid out in the DOE's National Hydrogen Energy Roadmap
According to the DOE, the challenges
to making hydrogen the fuel of the future lie in producing
hydrogen inexpensively, storing it safely and efficiently
converting it into usable energy. CERC is tackling
all three concerns.
"Our aim is to maximize hydrogen production yield
by improving the process for splitting hydrogen off
from water," said Lee Stefanakos, CERC director.
"We are also developing better ways to store
hydrogen, including using advanced materials, nanotechnology
and carbon-based nanotubes and finding better ways
to convert hydrogen to usable energy by improving
the material of proton exchange membranes (PEMs)."
PEMs are solid thin films that
allow positively charged ions to pass but block electrons.
Their development is critical to the advancement of
hydrogen fuel cell conversion. CERC researchers are
exploring new nano-composite materials to improve
PEM performance and durability. Their goal is to increase
the membrane conductivity and durability and raise
the fuel cell operating temperatures to 100-300 degrees
Fahrenheit, operating temperatures not possible with
"Higher temperatures," said Stefanakos,
"will decrease the need for high loading of expensive
catalysts, produce higher quality waste heat and better
facilitate heat removal through an improved membrane,
useful for up to 40,000 hours."
Hydrogen is the third most abundant element. Most
of it is found in water, which is two parts hydrogen
and one part oxygen. Hydrogen can also be produced
from natural gas, coal, gasoline and some natural
To move the nation away from oil and toward hydrogen
has required research, funding and legislation.
To increase their funding, researchers are looking
forward to the passage of Congressional bill H.R.
4614, the Energy And Water Appropriations Bill for
Fiscal Year 2005. H.R. 4614 has passed the House of
Representatives and is now in the Senate.
"Congressman Bill Young, who sponsored the bill,
has been a great ally, said Stefanakos. "With
his continued help and the greater support for our
research in Congress, the nation can be more independent
Stefanakos noted that in his 2003 State of the Union
address, President George W. Bush requested $1.2 billion
for hydrogen fuel research (http://www.eere.energy.gov).
Florida Governor Jeb Bush followed up by asking the
Florida legislature to appropriate $15 million in
January 2005 for hydrogen fuel research and development.
The President's Hydrogen Fuel Initiative seeks to
make the cost of hydrogen competitive with that of
gasoline by the year 2010.
"Whatever the outcome of the November national
elections, the momentum we have gained toward freeing
ourselves from oil dependency through increased hydrogen
fuel research, development and use needs to be carried
forward," he said.
Randolph Fillmore, 813-974-9051