Vanderbilt to partner with fuel cell manufacturer

Nashville, Tenn. ñ Fuel cell manufacturer PowerAvenue has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering to collaborate on hydrogen fuel cell research.

"This partnership will enable us to leverage our research expertise in a variety of engineering fields related to fuel cell technology and attract new researchers to establish a world-class research facility focused on important fuel cell research," said Vanderbilt School of Engineering Dean Kenneth F. Galloway.

"The primary focus of this partnership will be to plan and undertake research and development related to hydrogen fuel cell technology and to explore the commercial development and application of hydrogen fuel cells," said PowerAvenue Chief Executive Officer Rocco Guarnaccia. The Delaware corporation owns some 20 patents in fuel cell technology.

For many years, fuel cell technology has held out tantalizing prospects for clean, efficient, quiet and reliable power, but technical and infrastructural difficulties have hampered its development. Recognizing the potential and the need for additional research, President Bush announced a $1.2 billion hydrogen fuel initiative in his 2003 State of the Union address. The initiative will include $720 million in new funding over the next five years to develop the infrastructure and technologies to produce and distribute hydrogen for use in fuel cell vehicles and electricity generators.

Firouz Shahrokhi, president of PowerAvenue’s U.S. operations, cited Vanderbilt University’s respected research capabilities and the School of Engineering’s willingness to work with the high-tech industry as primary reasons for choosing Vanderbilt as a research partner. "Vanderbilt already has a nucleus of fuel cell research, expertise in the molecular dynamics of water and an outstanding reliability and risk engineering program. Our partnership will allow us to continue to advance hydrogen fuel cell technology and to develop clean and efficient technology to supply the hydrogen fuel," said Shahrokhi.

Shahrokhi says that initial research at Vanderbilt will be concentrated on product testing PowerAvenue’s point-of-use portable and stationary electricity-generation systems. One of the most intriguing aspects of the collaboration will be research into generating hydrogen from catalytic decomposition of water, Guarnaccia says. "This potentially leapfrogs current capital and energy-intensive processes to produce hydrogen from fossil fuels or through the electrolysis of water."

Galloway anticipates that the partnership will utilize the talents and expertise of Vanderbilt’s chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science, and civil and environmental engineering departments and will yield important research results.

Crediting Professor of Mechanical Engineering Alvin M. Strauss for building the partnership, Galloway says that initial plans for the technical program will be developed before the end of the year. Strauss, who is also director of the Tennessee Space Grant Consortium, will lead the research efforts in the initial phase.

Media contact: David F. Salisbury, (615) 343-6803

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