June 21, 2004

Federal grant fuels alternative energy research

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Research at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is helping in the development of alternative energy sources and reducing the need for fossil fuels.

A $369,446 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy is funding research into improving solid oxide fuel cells.

Rasit Koc (pronounced COACH), a professor in Mechanical Engineering and Energy Processes, is developing a superior interconnect material using titanium carbide-based materials. Interconnects essentially join together individual fuel cells -- electrochemical devices that convert a fuel (such as hydrogen) directly into electricity -- and allow for increased power.

Fuel cells are in use in a variety of ways as stationary power supplies, and have residential, transportation and portable power applications as well. That includes use in numerous vehicles from BMW, Daimler-Chrysler, General Motors, Ford Motor Company, Honda and Toyota, along with motorcycles, boats and golf carts.

The project looks to drastically lower operating temperatures in fuel cells.

"It is good to work on this type of project, which will really have a big impact in the way we use energy," Koc said. "We are getting rid of our dependence on oil and at the same time keeping clean air. I'm very happy I'm contributing to this."

The funds are for use in conjunction with the federal agency's Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance (SECA) Core Technology Program, which focuses on advances in fuel cell technology.

The project is a collaborative effort with David Carter of the Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne. Koc will develop and test the various interconnects under simulated conditions at SIUC. Further testing of candidate materials will follow at the Argonne laboratory.

Koc developed interconnects in use in fuel cells operating at higher temperatures. The titanium carbide materials will be made using a newly patented process Koc also developed.

"Now we are going a step further because we are trying to lower the operating temperatures of fuel cells," he said. That will offer fuel cell manufacturers competitive advantages and the ability to commercialize the solid oxide fuel cell.

Project funding will run for 18 months and is renewable, said Koc.

"Fuel cells hold a lot of promise for pollution-free electrical generation and are already impacting transportation and many other fields," said U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, in announcing the grant. "Working with a national lab on this important work furthers the reputation of SIUC."

Establishing relationships with private industry and promoting the University as a research institution of high quality are among the objectives of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the University's development by the time it reaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.

For more information about the project, contact Professor Koc at 618/453-7005.