People, prosperity, and the planet

People, prosperity, and the planet

By Connie Coutain and Heidi Williams '06

P3 Champs: Red shirts are Ross Pimentel '12, left, and Sutyen Zalawadia '12. Standing left to right are: Sandeep Lele '12, Mike Sizemore '12, Sapaan Shah '11, M.S. '13, Jeffrey Schwartz '12, and Aitor Zabalegui '10, M.S. '13. Photo by Charles Barry
A new fuel-cell design brings top honors to student engineers.

Some 1.6 billion people around the world lack access to electricity. So a team of SCU student engineers has come up with a robust, off-the-grid solution that could make a difference, combining solar-and fuel-cell technology. What they came up with—the proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMeFC)—is a design innovative enough to bring top honors from the Environmental Protection Agency’s P3 competition in Washington, D.C., this past April.

SCU students led by senior Michael Sizemore '12 developed “a brand-new clean-energy system designed solely by us,” he says. They competed against 40-odd colleges and universities, earning bragging rights and a $90,000 award from the EPA to help advance their design and move it into the marketplace. The team began its work under the guidance of engineering faculty member Dan Strickland, who was tragically killed in a car accident last fall. Shoba Krishnan, associate professor of electrical engineering, then stepped in to serve as faculty advisor.

Read more about the team in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The team devised a fuel-cell system that generates electricity from hydrogen and oxygen source tanks. Photovoltaic panels provide power for electrolysis, running the fuel cell in reverse to resupply the fuel tanks—and simultaneously to provide power. The plan is to implement the system in SCU’s Solar Decathlon houses and to work with BlueEnergy in Nicaragua to provide rural, off-grid power.

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