This is a blog about Wyoming EPSCoR, the projects we do and the grants we are working on. From student internship programs, to grant work, to research, we're sharing our news and stories for our community to read and share. Thank you for visiting our site!
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Fuel Cell Research- Making the electric car more affordable and durable
The Student Research
Apprenticeship Program (SRAP) is a paid summer
research program at the University of Wyoming for high school students
in tenth through twelfth grade. It is sponsored by Wyoming EPSCoR and
funded by the National Science Foundation. This
is the seventh of eleven stories about the laboratories where this year’s SRAP
students are working.
Brigette Salinas tests a membrane in Dr. Li's lab.
President Obama set a plan to reduce imported oil to
one-third by 2025. In his plan, he pushed for increased focus and research on
biofuels and other alternatives to gasoline. Right now the costs of alternatives,
such as those used in electric cars, are greater than gasoline. However,
research like Brigette Salinas’s summer project may make electric cars more
affordable and durable.
The fuel cell assembly of an electric car, which replaces
the combustion engine in a traditional car, is the most expensive part. This is
in part due to its short lifespan and lack of durability, says Dr. DongmeiKatie Li, Brigette’s mentor.
Currently, fuel cells are made by sandwiching a membrane
between two pieces of carbon paper. The fuel cell is then heat pressed which
weakens the membrane and causes its short lifespan. Brigette is working on
assembling the membrane sandwich in a way that does not require heat or
pressure, but rather utilizes a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is
incredibly versatile and can stick to any surface, says Dr. Li.
In the assembly Brigette is working on, each side of the
membrane, or one side of each piece of carbon paper is coated with dopamine.
The membrane is then put in a vacuum oven which requires no heat or pressure.
After it is set, the membrane is then tested. After the first tests, Brigette
and Dr. Li’s students, Phillip Cross and Shibely Saha, have found that this
technique is very promising.
“We’re hoping to be able to replace the current device
fabrication technique using this new surface chemistry technique so we can
increase durability,” Dr. Li says.
This is the first year that Dr. Li has participated in SRAP.
She was drawn to the program because of her own background. “I’m a first
generation college graduate in my family and I wanted to help students from a
similar background,” she says.
Her favorite part of SRAP is interacting with the students,
especially students like Brigette who bring new strength to the lab. Brigette
and her classmates are the face of the future, in terms of energy and
sustainability, and it is programs like this that open up possibilities for the