Discovery Magazine

Developing an Interdisciplinary Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Academic Program

Goals for this project include:

  • Follow the technology as it evolves from introduction to long-term applications;
  • Allow students to obtain a basic engineering education on the fundamentals of the field;
  • Redirect students’ current technology focus as a means for new career options;
  • Measure students’ gains in knowledge of hydrogen as a fuel source;
  • Interact with outside industries to strengthen the curriculum and aid in the development of high technology companies, employee effectiveness; and
  • Satisfy the current need for hydrogen technology graduates in government, industry and academia.

As an introduction to the topic of engineering education, all General Chemistry II laboratory experiments highlight various aspects of hydrogen and fuel cell technology. Topics include chemical properties of hydrogen (molar mass, reaction stoichiometry, combustion kinetics) and applications involving hydrogen (1H NMR, electrolysis, generating hydrogen via solar cells) and others. Preliminary assessment of the new laboratory curriculum shows that students learn about hydrogen technology throughout the semester.

The Mechanical Engineering and Chemical Engineering departments created a Master of Science with Specialization in Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology degree program with two new courses. Hydrogen Technology (CHE 5250) presents the fundamental knowledge of hydrogen and the potential future development of hydrogen science and technology; investigates the use of hydrogen as a fuel, its properties, production and storage; and discusses hydrogen technology applications. Principles of Fuel Cells (MAE 5330) presents the fundamentals of fuel cell technology, including basic operating principles, thermodynamics, reaction kinetics, charge and mass transport, and modeling, with emphasis on hydrogen fuel cells; and discusses types of fuel cells, fuel cell stacks, thermal management, fuel delivery and power management.

In addition to new courses, several faculty added hydrogen fuel cell technology topics to existing courses.  Dr. Pei-feng Hsu includes hydrogen fuel cells in his engineering thermodynamics (MAE 3191) course.  Dr. Robert Sullivan added a hydrogen fuel cell technology module to ECE 4861, Introduction to Electrical Power Systems and hydrogen-related content his graduate course ECE 5683, Power System Operation. Dr. James Brenner now teaches hydrogen technology topics in his Introduction to Chemical Engineering class for freshmen, his sophomore-level Materials Science and Engineering lecture, and his senior/graduate level course about nanotechnology. Engineering students may learn about hydrogen technology as part of the senior design project. For instance, students can design, build and investigate a metal hydride hydrogen/thermal energy storage system, study the feasibility of using hydrogen-powered airport ground equipment or develop final cost estimates for a hydrogen-based residential emergency power supply.

In the College of Science, Chemistry Professor Clayton Baum introduced a 4-hour lab experiment using hydrogen fuel cells. First, students electrolyze water to produce hydrogen and oxygen. They measure the voltage, current and volume of hydrogen produced, then calculate the chemical energy and the electrical energy to determine the efficiency and heat loss. During the second part, students use the fuel cell technology to produce electricity to lift a known mass a known distance. Students will calculate the electrical energy and the efficiency of the fuel cell and compare the electrical energy required to produce the hydrogen and oxygen with that produced by the fuel cell technology.  Dr. Dr. Hakeem Oluseyi of the Physics and Space Sciences Department will add a hydrogen-related experiment to the Physics Senior Laboratory course which will illustrate the fundamentals of the physics of energy production. Hydrogen technology is also taught as part of Introduction to Sustainability (ISC 1500) and Applied Sustainability (ISC 4000), both taught by Dr. Ken Lindeman. These courses are part of Florida Tech's Sustainability Minor curriculum.

An outgrowth of this project is that the PIs are combining their new curriculum materials in a single resource for teaching hydrogen technology for use by faculty at other colleges and universities. Included in the collection is a laboratory manual of the General Chemistry II experiments with online video instructions.