Posts Tagged ‘Fuel Cell’

ATETV Episode 39: Helping to Shape Technologies of the Future

Monday, June 21st, 2010

This week, we look at how Advanced Technological Education programs not only enable students to craft their own futures, but also help them to shape the future of emerging technologies .

We begin with our first segment at Florence -Darlington Technical College, where John Evans, a graduate of the school’s Electrical Engineering program, credits his ATE education with providing him with the valuable first-hand experience that led to his current job as a technician at ESAB Welding and Cutting Center.

As John notes, his everyday work routine includes “a lot of math, a lot of calculating, a lot of formulas in order to [determine] the voltages you need. This [requires a particular] way of thinking and troubleshooting.”

Through his training at Florence-Darlington, including a hands-on internship, John was able to acquire the demanding skill set that the position requires. “If I didn’t go to school, there would be no way that I could just come out here and do what I’m doing now and at [this] level,” he notes. “A person couldn’t come in off the street and [do this job].” Of particular value, he says, was the “double dose” of experience he received throughout his school program, as he gained classroom experience in the mornings and headed off to an internship in the afternoons where he applied the skills he’d mastered in the classroom.

In our second segment, we learn that employers in Alternative Energy fields are also looking to hire well-rounded individuals.

“What I’m looking for is students with initiative and ambition and smarts who are going to fit into areas like technicians and service personnel, and installation personnel,” explains Mark Fleiner of Rolls Royce Fuel Cell Systems. “[I need] people who have good hands, good minds, who don’t need a lot of direction, who can see things [for themselves] and are willing to [actively] participate, maybe say, ‘Hey, we could do it better this way.’”

Within these numerous Alternative Energy fields — Solar, Wind, Hydrogen, and Fuel Cell Technology, for example — there is plenty of room for students to make their own mark. “These educational programs are very flexible, very adaptable,” explains Diane Auer Jones of The Washington Campus. “[Today's technological education programs] have the ability to really figure out where the workforce needs are for both today and tomorrow and are able to address those needs very quickly.”

And, as we learn in our third segment, one thriving example of alternative energy is Fuel Cell Technology. This efficient and environmentally friendly source of power offers a wide range of applications for our society — and a wide range of career opportunities for tomorrow’s technology students.

As Rolls Royce’s Mark Fleiner notes, “Fuel cells basically can be applied anywhere that power is being used.” So, whether energy is required to move an automobile, to light up a building or put electricity on the grid, or to power a ship or airplane, fuel cells can fit the bill.

The end result: A healthy environmental footprint. “Right now, with our world’s increasing population, the burden on natural resources — crude oil, coal — is [rapidly] increasing ,” explains Pallavi Pharkya of Contained Energy, LLC. “Our [fuel cell] technology would help ease that burden. Energy is a global issue.”

Or, as her colleague Benjamin Emley puts it, “Fuel cells are the future.”

Small is the New Big Idea

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Fuel Cell Technology: Small is the New Big Idea

Imagine a fuel source that can run on natural gas and propane — or soybean oil and used cooking oil. Or even farm waste.

Well, it’s not just an imaginary scenario, it’s a real and thriving industry known as fuel cell technology, and it’s being used today to create locally generated electricity in rural farm areas, military battle zones and other hard-to-reach places beyond the range of the standard electrical grid.

The subject of a recent report on the CBS News program, “60 Minutes,” the promise of fuel cell technology lies in its ability to generate the equivalent of a “power plant in a box,” replacing massive power plants and the transmission line grid in the same way that laptop computers have partially replaced desktop computers or the way cell phones have replaced many land-line phones.

A fuel cell is a two-inch disk made of ceramic that converts fuel into electricity and heat using an electrochemical process many times cleaner, quieter and less polluting than engines and turbines. Because a single fuel cell generates about 0.7 volts of electricity, hundreds of fuel cells are combined in a “stack” to generate enough energy to power a motor.

Fuel cell systems decrease our carbon footprints and provide important alternative energy options. By generating electricity through an electrochemical reaction, rather than from a combustion process as would occur in an automobile engine, there’s no need for burning or combustion and no need for power lines from an outside source. Compared to a battery, which uses an electrochemical reaction to produce a finite amount of energy, fuel cells produce electricity continuously as long as they are provided fuel — whether it be diesel, kerosene or vegetable oil. (For an interactive explanation of how fuel cells work, visit the General Motors Education website.)

Technology Management, Inc. (TMI) has been developing fuel cells for the past two decades, and according to their website, fuel cells provide a unique source of power generation for several important reasons: 1) They are modular. Unlike solar, wind, diesel or natural-gas generators, fuel cells are compact in size and can be placed anywhere there is a fuel supply. 2) They are clean. Compared to generators, which produce noise, odor and air pollution — including lethal carbon monoxide — fuel cells are clean, quiet and safe for indoor use. 3) They are efficient. Fuel cells are at least twice as efficient as a gas engine or turbine at producing electricity. In addition, fuel cells produce clean heat which can be used for cooling as well as heating. 4) They are scalable. Fuel cells are modular which means that each individual system enjoys the same high efficiency regardless of size and can be used as “energy building blocks.” You simply add more to get more power, demonstrating that bigger is not always better.

Today, in partnership with Stark State College and Lockheed Martin, TMI is developing a fuel cell military application that promises to greatly reduce the need for a front-line unit to transport and secure large quantities of gasoline or diesel fuel on the battlefield. Delivering this fuel is expensive and dangerous, but by reducing the need for petroleum at outlying military installations, the long truck convoys required to deliver fuel (which are especially vulnerable to enemy attack) can be reduced, saving costs as well as safeguarding soldiers’ lives.

TMI is also developing a small-scale fuel-cell-driven power system that could be placed on thousands of small farms in rural America or tens of thousands of rural villages in the third world to bring power to customers in remote locales. As TMI CEO Benson Lee puts it, “Small is the new big idea.”

To hear a presentation by Benson Lee about the role of fuel cell technology in today’s marketplace, including its role in solving global social problems, click here.

ATETV Episode 25: Technology and Real-Life Applications

Monday, March 8th, 2010

This week, we look at ways that community colleges are working hand-in-hand with industry to create curriculum that will enable students to “hit the ground running” upon graduation.

In our first segment, we visit Stark State College, where a two-year associate’s degree in fuel cell technology incorporates mathematics, chemisty and physics, as well as specialized fuel cell curriculum, as part of an overall mechnical engineering program.

“We are very tight with business, so we listen very closely to their needs,” explains Stark State’s Dennis Trenger. “Our curriculum provides as broad of a picture as we can paint right now, because this field is constantly changing.”

In addition to the two-year degree program, Stark State also offers students the option of a one-year certificate program in fuel cell technology. “Perhaps students have already been out in the field and have some mechanical engineering skills or even electrical engineering skills,” says Dennis. “With this certificate program they could come back and take our fuel cell courses to actually move them in a little different direction in their careers.”

For student Dena Mayhorn, the certificate program is proving to be exactly the right fit for her needs after 20 years of employment with Acura. “I feel that fuel cell technology is going to be used in many areas, including the automotive industry. This program is a great way to get exposed to some of these new technologies.”

As we see in our second segment, Saddleback College’s partnerships with industry are providing students with state-of-the-art education in rapid manufacturing, the field that enables companies to create three-dimensional computer models of real-world objects in advance of product development.

For the industries of today to be globally competitive, they need people with skills that can drive a product to market in a very short period of time. “Many of today’s companies, particularly the Fortune 50s that are involved with our [Rapid Tech program] are interested in bringing their high-end manufacturing design and tooling back from overseas,” says Saddleback’s Ken Patton. “This is going to create high-wage jobs here in the U.S.”

And graduates of Saddleback’s Rapid Manufacturing program — which provides students with the same experiences they will encounter in the work world — will be ready for these opportunities.

“Our students have to come up with a product that they think is manufacturable and sellable,” explains Saddleback’s Ed Tackett. “They have to conduct market research, develop a business plan, do multiple iterations using the different technologies in the lab and then present their report to an industry panel that we invite in at the end of each semester.”

As this week’s episode illustrates, college programs that partner with industry give students the added benefits of real-life applications, providing them with an important edge they enter today’s competitive job market.