FSEC Director to Brief Auto Makers on Fuel Cell Technology

COCOA, Dec. 4, 2006 — Florida Solar Energy Center Director Jim Fenton will discuss fuel cells, a promising technique for future energy-efficient vehicles, with the nations leading automakers during a meeting Wednesday, Dec. 6, in Detroit.

As gas price spikes have hit Americans hard in their pocketbooks, talk is increasing over the need for alternative-fueled vehicles to reduce U.S. dependence on expensive oil. Research and design efforts in recent years have made significant progress toward meeting the performance and cost criteria to make fuel cells practical.

At the request of the U.S. Department of Energy, Fenton will speak to the United States Council of Automotive Research (USCAR), the umbrella organization that coordinates research for DaimlerChrysler, Ford and General Motors. The meeting will focus on technologies and applications for America’s future cars and trucks, and it will help to determine the priorities for Department of Energy research programs for the coming year.

“This is strong recognition of the important work UCF and the High Temperature Membrane Working Group, which UCF leads, are doing to make fuel cell cars a reality,” Fenton explained. “It is an honor to get this recognition.”

The Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) is a research institute of the University of Central Florida, which is the only U.S. university to lead a Department of Energy fuel cell program. UCF and FSEC coordinate the activities of 12 universities and research organizations in the $19 million High Temperature, Low Relative Humidity development effort.

The membrane is the key component of the Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell that will power the worlds fuel cell vehicles. As the leader of DOE’s High Temperature Membrane Working Group, Fenton coordinates with DOE and USCAR the performance, durability and cost targets for the fuel cell membrane.

In directing the overall DOE membrane program, UCF and FSEC coordinate a variety of research projects on polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells. Those cells typically operate at temperatures no higher than 60 to 80 degrees Celsuis, but if they reach 120 degrees Celsius and about 25 percent relative humidity for transportation, they would yield significant energy benefits. Heat rejection is easier at higher temperatures, which would allow use of smaller automobile radiators.

It is essential that these new membranes be developed before fuel cell powered cars could be in everyones garage. Fenton will talk to the auto makers about the nations research efforts to reduce the costs of the raw materials, improve conductivity of the membrane, develop strategies to mitigate degradation in performance and durability and other objectives of the membrane research program.

“UCF and FSEC have already played a key role in establishing Florida as the home of groundbreaking research efforts in zero-energy homes, solar electricity and solar energy, and it is a logical step to making the ‘Sunshine State’ the home of fuel-cell activities as well,” Fenton said. “Through the research at FSEC, we hope to achieve energy independence for the ‘Sunshine State.'”

The Florida Solar Energy Center, a research institute of the University of Central Florida, is the largest and most active state-supported energy research center in the country. Current research activities include solar water and pool heating, solar electric and distributed generation systems, energy-efficient buildings, alternative transportation systems, hydrogen fuel, fuel cells and other energy areas. For more information about the center, visit www.fsec.ucf.edu or call the FSEC Public Affairs Office at (321) 638-1015.