UT Chemist Wins Hydrogen Fuel Cell Grant

KNOXVILLE — University of Tennessee distinguished professor Jimmy Mays’s polymer research has put him on the cutting edge of a new clean energy research initiative announced by President Bush during his State of the Union address.

Mays, a UT-Oak Ridge National Laboratory distinguished scientist, received a $1.5 million grant from the Department of Energy on Jan. 24 to develop a high-temperature, low-humidity membrane for use in hydrogen fuel cells. These membranes are a critical element of the process used to develop electricity from hydrogen.

In the address, President Bush noted specifically the need to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil through the use of hydrogen fuel cell technology as part of the Advanced Energy Initiative — a 22 percent increase in clean energy research.

“We must also change how we power our automobiles. We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen,” said Bush. “By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.”

Mays’s research will help move the search for a hydrogen-fueled future closer to reality.

“The membrane aspect has been a hurdle in developing hydrogen fuel cell technology so far,” said Mays. “The grant will help us continue the steps we’ve already made.”

The award to Mays is part of a $19 million nationwide competitive grant program focused on developing more durable and stable membranes more cost effectively within a short timeframe.

“Investments in fuel cell and hydrogen research today will enable America to lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles that will reduce our dependence on imported oil,” said Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman in a release. “This funding will help overcome technical barriers and bring hydrogen and fuel cell technology from the laboratory to the showroom.”

The design for a hydrogen fuel cell involves hydrogen ions passing through a membrane to combine with oxygen to produce energy, leaving only water as a byproduct.

The reaction works best at high temperatures that cause the membrane to degrade. The goal of Mays’s research is to develop a membrane using chemical polymers that withstand high temperatures while effectively promoting the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen.

A release from the Department of Energy about the grant and its hydrogen fuel cell research program is available at http://www.energy.gov/news/3098.htm.

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Contact: Jay Mayfield (865) 974-9409, jay.mayfield@tennessee.edu