Congressional staff members board a UD hydrogen fuel cell bus.

STAR visitors

Congressional staffers tour UD hydrogen fuel cell buses on STAR Campus

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5:16 p.m., March 22, 2013--More than a dozen congressional staffers “kicked the tires” of the University of Delaware’s hydrogen fuel cell buses on the Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus today, as part of a two-state tour to learn about efforts to fuel a hydrogen economy.

The visitors toured the Center for Fuel Cell Research’s fuel cell bus maintenance facility and heard about UD’s research on hydrogen fuel cell/battery hybrid technology before boarding the buses to visit a Bloom Energy fuel cell installation in Newark and Air Liquide, one of several regional industry corporations focused on developing key fuel cell technologies.

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The day-long trip, organized by the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, also included a stop at W.L. Gore and Associates in Elkton, Md.

Fuel cells have long been considered a clean and efficient power source destined to redefine how consumers use energy, according to Ajay Prasad, professor of mechanical engineering and the center’s director. UD’s Center for Fuel Cell Research is at the epicenter of this effort, with research aimed around three main applications: automotive, stationary power and portable power. 

“The center facilitates research at the component as well as system levels, including the development of novel and more durable membranes, cost-effective catalysts, system architecture optimization for performance and reliability, balance-of-plant innovations, and novel approaches for hydrogen generation and storage,” Prasad explained.

Fuel cell powered hybrid vehicles provide a fuel economy that is two to three times higher than conventional combustion engines. Equally important, they produce zero emissions, emitting only water vapor into the environment. However, challenges to widespread adoption of fuel cells include their cost, durability and the lack of hydrogen infrastructure.

“Fuel cell buses are an excellent way to introduce the public to an alternate mode of transport that is clean, safe and reliable,” he added. “In addition, the centralized nature of bus fleet operations simplifies infrastructure issues like refueling and maintenance. Therefore, fuel cell buses represent an effective means to overcome current barriers to commercialization.”

The center currently operates two hydrogen buses, and plans to double its fleet in 2013, with a third bus arriving on campus this spring and the fourth by year’s end. 

Bloom Energy, a leader in high temperature fuel cells for stationary power applications, broke ground in April 2012 for its new manufacturing plant on UD’s STAR Campus. It’s a development that Prasad calls a “fantastic addition” that holds great promise for future partnerships. Delaware is also home to DuPont and W.L. Gore, which are major manufacturers of fuel cell components. 

About STAR

In 2009, the University of Delaware acquired 272 acres along the I-95 corridor, which is being transformed into the Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus. Using a “three plus one” strategy, the STAR Campus development will focus on health and life sciences, energy and the environment, national security and defense plus infrastructure with the creation of the Newark Regional Transportation Center. As the site is developed over the next several decades, it will be a place to foster collaboration among academics, research and business.

Article by Karen B. Roberts

Photos by Evan Krape

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