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APSU professor receives grant to develop better fuel efficiency

» By TRENT SINGER – tsinger@my.apsu.edu

In recent years, the United States has seen a movement to create a more feasible energy source for automobiles.

Although research and development solutions for alternatives have been presented, the problem persists as oil companies continue to reap the benefits of delay.

With a $25,000 grant from the Tennessee Solar Conversion and Storage using Outreach, Research and Education, Justin Oelgoetz, associate professor of Physics and Astronomy, along with several APSU students, has spent the summer researching fuel cells and attempting to answer some of the questions which may help Americans save money at the pump.

“Gasoline is actually reasonably cost-effective, but [some] of the major expensive parts of the fuel cell are the electrodes that have platinum in them,” Oelgoetz said.

He claims finding a way to remove the platinum would make gasoline more economical in the long run.

Some of Oelgoetz’s fellow researchers are scattered in universities throughout the country, including the UT in Knoxville. Oelgoetz, along with Thomas Zawodzinski at UT Knoxville, were joined together by the grant to research catalysis and durability issues in fuel cells, along with non-precious alternatives to platinum.

“The eventual goal is to chemically bind the catalyst sites to the electrode. So in order to do that, you have to understand what’s going on by looking at how the atoms in these molecules vibrate,” Oegloetz said.

The research within Oelgoetz’s grant deals mostly with gathering a basic understanding of how electrodes which use non-precious catalysts work in order to create better electrodes.

“There’s a lot of interest statewide in green energy technologies, fuel cells being one of those … This is a very important application, and it’s a very meaningful application that students are interested in. It’s the coalescence behind a single topic that makes us go for it,” Oelgoetz said.

The research being done in APSU’s Physics Department could potentially help other scientists determine how to engineer a better electrode and lead to bringing down the cost of manufacturing fuel cells.

With a background in computational spectroscopy, Oelgoetz will model the spectra of the compounds and determine what will work best as a potential replacement for platinum. TAS

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