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Fuel-Cell Test Station at SERC
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by Dr. Peter A. Lehman
Director, Schatz Energy Research Center, Humboldt State University

To help it continue to guide the future of fuel  cells, Humboldt State University’s Schatz Energy  Research Center has designed and built a testing  station for the technology.

The station was showcased at an informal  ceremony Monday with Congressman Mike Thompson, whose support helped SERC obtain the $500,000  grant for the center’s “Fuel-Cell Advanced  Materials Research and Demonstration Project”  from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of  Science.

According to SERC Co-Director Peter Lehman, “Our  goal is to improve durability and reduce costs  of fuel cells. With the testing station, we can control and measure the physical variables and  improve performance.”

Anchored to a lab bench at SERC’s University  Annex facility, the station – a network of  wires, hoses and pipes connected to motors,  gauges, tanks and valves – allows the fuel  cell’s traffic of electricity, water and gases to be monitored.

A fuel cell is a quiet, efficient and clean  generator that chemically produces electricity  from hydrogen and air. With layers of cells,  called a stack, it produces direct current like  a battery but, unlike a battery, it never  discharges; it continues to produce power as  long as fuel is supplied. The only exhaust from its energy production is pure water.  An animation at the SERC’s web site depicts the process: www.humboldt.edu/~serc/animation.html

Fuel cells have been used on spacecraft for decades, providing direct-current power and drinking water for astronauts.

Since SERC built its first fuel cell in 1992 (to power aquaria pumps at the university’s marine laboratory), the center has produced an array of stacks, ranging from 200 watts to 9 kilowatts, providing energy for various uses across the state.

Past SERC stacks have powered a small fleet of vehicles for the City of Palm Desert, a mountaintop radio repeater station to provide telecommunications to a remote region of Northern California, and an ice-cream maker in a project for schoolchildren in Santa Cruz.

SERC also has a $200,000 contract to build a similar fuel-cell test station for Kettering University in Michigan. ©2005. All Rights Reserved. A Publication of the National Hydrogen Association.
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