Purdue News


Jay Gore, interim director of the Energy Center at Purdue's Discovery Park, says the upcoming hydrogen symposium will bring together state, national and international experts to outline solutions to global energy problems. (23 seconds)
Gore says the symposium will help Purdue engage in a dialogue designed to help researchers solve critical global energy needs. (36 seconds)
P.V. Ramachandran, associate professor of chemistry at Purdue and coordinator of the Hydrogen Symposium Initiative, says the international conference will highlight benefits of using hydrogen as an alternative energy source. (38 seconds)
Ramachandran says the conference will link research at the academic level with that under way by major U.S. and global companies looking into hydrogen as an alternative energy source. (131 seconds)

Energy Center
Discovery Park

March 23, 2006

Purdue Energy Center symposium touts benefits of hydrogen fuel

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — With oil and gasoline prices still at their highest levels in 15 years and demand for fossil-fuel energy surging in emerging countries like India and China, Purdue researchers are looking at how a fuel based on hydrogen can help cure this nation's energy woes.

P.V. Ramachandran and B.C. Raju
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That prospect will be showcased on April 5-6 during the inaugural Hydrogen Initiative Symposium, sponsored by Purdue's Energy Center at Discovery Park.

"Purdue is considered a global leader in hydrogen research. We are a one of a kind in the world," said P.V. Ramachandran, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry who coordinates the Energy Center's Hydrogen Initiative.

"People have to be educated about the fact that hydrogen fuel is as safe as gasoline for an industrial combustible engine. We have to engage the public in Indiana and across the nation about that fact."

The international conference will include lectures, oral presentations and a poster session dealing with the various aspects of hydrogen generation, storage and utilization. Technical contributions will be peer-reviewed by a scientific committee.

Shripad Revankar
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Participants will include government policy-makers and international scientists working on the energy applications of hydrogen as well as scientists from research institutes and industrial laboratories. Topics will range from nanotechnology to findings in environmental sciences and societal impacts.

The symposium is in the Burton Morgan Entrepreneurship Center in Discovery Park on April 5 and in Stewart Center, Room 218 A-D, on April 6.

The winner of the annual Herbert C. Brown Award for Innovations in Hydrogen Research, which comes with a $5,000 cash prize, will be announced. An international committee will pick the winner, who also will be the speaker during the symposium's banquet.

On April 6, a poster session is planned in Stewart Center, Room 202. The welcome, keynote and plenary sessions are in Stewart Center, Room 218. Other lectures that day are in Stewart Center, room 202 and 310.

Registration fee ($150 and $50 for students) covers the cost of the symposium abstracts, the banquet, lunch and coffee breaks. The guest registration fee ($50) covers the cost of the symposium banquet, lunch and coffee breaks.

Representatives from the private sector participating in the symposium include General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Corp., General Atomics, U.S. Borax Inc., Millennium Cell Inc., Air Products and Chemicals Inc., Shell Hydrogen, BOC Gases and United Technologies.

Researchers from Penn State University, University of Hawaii and University of Connecticut, as well as NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Argonne, Los Alamos, Idaho, Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest, Sandia and Savannah River national laboratories also will attend.

"Through this symposium, we believe we can take a leadership role in hydrogen research in Indiana and the Midwest," said Ramachandran, an expert in organic synthesis and energy research who joined Purdue in 1984 as a postdoctoral research associate with the late professor and Nobel laureate Herbert C. Brown.

Hydrogen is an extremely light gas, so it poses serious challenges for practical use. Because its molecular weight is only 2 — compared with heavier gases, such as methane, which has a molecular weight of 16 — less hydrogen is contained in the same space as heavier gases, making its transport much more expensive.

Shripad Revankar, an associate professor of nuclear engineering at Purdue who is chairman of the symposium's scientific committee, said the event will focus on hydrogen generation technology and research on how to effectively and less expensively store and utilize hydrogen.

Government officials, corporate executives and energy researchers also will discuss policies at the U.S. and global level that are designed to encourage research and development of hydrogen as a viable alternative energy source.

"Storage is the major issue regarding hydrogen research," Revankar said. "We hope to showcase what Purdue is doing to improve this technology and help make it more affordable so it can be widely used by the automotive and other industries."

During his State of the Union address on Jan. 31, President Bush outlined an ambitious plan in which people born today would be able to stop at hydrogen stations and fill their fuel-cell cars with the pollution-free fuel by the year 2020.

His $1.2 billion hydrogen fuel initiative is designed to reverse the nation's growing dependence on foreign oil by developing the technology for commercially viable hydrogen-powered fuel cells to power cars, trucks, homes and businesses with no pollution or greenhouse gases.

The initiative includes $720 million in new funding over the next five years to develop the technologies and infrastructure to produce, store and distribute hydrogen for use in fuel-cell vehicles and in electricity generation. That particular effort is a part of the government's FreedomCAR (Cooperative Automotive Research) initiative.

Automakers and environmentalists are excited about the prospect of fuel cells, which would run on hydrogen that would only emit water instead of gas fumes. But fuel cell vehicles remain extremely expensive to produce and lack an infrastructure of fueling stations to make them viable.

A fuel cell works by using a catalyst, such as platinum, to split hydrogen molecules, which contain two hydrogen atoms in a dumbbell shape. Breaking apart the dumbbell gives off electrons, which generate a current that can be used to run an electric motor.

Because each hydrogen atom's single electron is removed, the hydrogen atoms become positively charged. The positively charged hydrogen atoms pass through a special "proton-exchange membrane," entering another part of the fuel cell, where they are exposed to oxygen from the air. When hydrogen and oxygen combine, they produce water, making fuel cells a clean power source.

Engineers at Purdue have developed a new way to produce hydrogen for fuel cells to automatically recharge batteries in portable electronics, such as notebook computers, and eliminate the need to use a wall outlet.

Researchers envision a future system in which pellets of hydrogen-releasing material would be contained in disposable credit-card-size cartridges. Once the pellets were used up, a new cartridge would be inserted into devices such as cell phones, personal digital assistants, notebook computers, digital cameras, handheld medical diagnostic devices and defibrillators.

The method also could have military applications in portable electronics for soldiers and for equipment in spacecraft and submarines, said Arvind Varma, the R. Games Slayter Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and head of Purdue's School of Chemical Engineering who will give a presentation at the hydrogen symposium.

Rakesh Agrawal, Purdue's Winthrop E. Stone Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering, co-authored an article in 2005 that outlined the daunting technical challenges standing in the way of the mass production and use of hydrogen fuel-cell cars.

The article, titled "The Hydrogen Economy: Opportunities, Costs, Barriers and R&D Needs," was the cover story in the AIChE Journal, a publication of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

According to Agrawal, today's fuel cells generate power at a cost of greater than $2,000 per kilowatt, compared with $35 per kilowatt for the internal combustion engine, so they are more than 50 times more expensive than conventional automotive technology.

At the same time, fuel cells have an operating lifetime for cars of less than 1,000 hours of driving time, compared with at least 5,000 hours of driving time for an internal combustion engine.

"That means fuel cells wear out at least five times faster than internal combustion engines," Agrawal said. "If I buy a new car, I expect it to last, say, 10 years, which equates to about 3,000 hours of driving time. If my fuel cell only lasts 1,000 hours, you can see that's not very practical."

To bring down the cost of fuel cells, less expensive catalysts and membrane materials are needed, said Agrawal, who also noted that a fuel-cell car built with today's storage and transportation technology would cost about $250,000.

Created with seed money from the Lilly Endowment, Purdue's Energy Center is working with similar centers in Illinois and Kentucky to focus on developing economical and environmentally sound energy alternatives and to help change policies and perceptions about energy consumption.

Purdue's Energy Center, which was launched last July, is led by interim director Jay Gore, who is the Vincent P. Reilly Professor in Mechanical Engineering.

Bringing together more than 75 Purdue experts, the Energy Center initially is focused on biofuels and clean coal research because Indiana provides an abundance of these natural resources.

The center also is designed to bolster Purdue's expertise in storage technologies, such as those involving hydrogen, batteries, power electronics and renewable energy devices like solar cells. Researchers also are studying how to harness the wind and make nuclear energy safer.

Writer: Phillip Fiorini, (765) 496-3133, pfiorini@purdue.edu

Sources: P.V. Ramachandran, (765) 494-5303, chandran@purdue.edu

Shripad Revankar, (765) 496-1782, shripad@purdue.edu

Rakesh Agrawal, agrawalr@purdue.edu

Arvind Varma, (765) 494-4075, avarma@purdue.edu

Jay Gore, (765) 494-2122, gore@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


P.V. Ramachandran, an associate professor in Purdue's Department of Chemistry, works with researcher B.C. Raju on a hydrogen experiment in his lab in the Chemistry Building. Ramachandran hopes next month's inaugural Hydrogen Initiative Symposium, sponsored by Purdue's Energy Center at Discovery Park, helps put the spotlight on the university's research in using hydrogen as an alternative energy source. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)


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