Polymer electrolyte fuel cells 

Dr. Ron Kander

Virginia Tech

Friday, October 27

2:30 pm Tureaud 103


In a fuel cell, hydrogen and oxygen are combined electrochemically, with high efficiency and low emissions, to produce electrical energy. Among the known types of fuel cells, the so-called proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell has relatively high power density, relatively low weight, and low working temperatures. These characteristics make it a prime candidate
for both mobile and stationary, low-power and medium-power applications. Already, PEM fuel cells are being used to run cars and buses in demonstration projects, and in the near future we will see block-type thermal power stations based on PEM technology.

However, in order to realize the full potential of PEM fuel cell technology, there are many materials-related research challenges that must be addressed. For example, much of the work done in the area of polymer electrolyte
fuel cells (PEFCs) has concentrated on mechanical design and performance modeling. Studies have also been conducted to mathematically predict long-term performance of fuel cells. For the most part, these models
rely on time-independent properties of the polymeric materials employed in the PEFCs. However, the properties of PEMs can change significantly as a function of time and exposure to moisture and elevated temperature.
Thus, with PEMs being one of the most important parts of PEFCs, the study of PEM durability is essential to the accurate long-term performance modeling of PEFCs.

This talk will introduce PEM fuel cell research and discuss three examples of materials-related research challenges that are currently being addressed in the Materials Science & Engineering Department at Virginia Tech.  The first example is work to understand the long-term environmental durability of PEMs and how physical aging of these polymeric membranes influences
fuel cell performance. The second example is work to develop in-situ real-time dynamic mechanical sensors to monitor physical aging of PEMs inside an operating fuel cell stack. The third example is work to improve the power-to-weight efficiency and corrosion resistance of fuel cell assemblies by developing light-weight, electrically conductive composite bipolar plates to replace the metal plates currently used to separate PEMs in a fuel cell stack.


Dr. Kander is an Associate Professor in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at Virginia Tech, where he teaches and does research in the area of environmental durability and processability of polymers and polymer-based composite materials. Ron received a BS in Chemical Engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1980, and a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Delaware in 1987.

Before arriving at Virginia Tech in August of 1990, Ron was employed for five and a half years by E. I. DuPont as a Senior Engineer in the Advanced Composites Division of the Fibers Department and in the Polymer Physics
Group of the Central Research Department. While at DuPont, his research interests included fatigue performance and damage accumulation in composite materials, interphase modification in glass fiber reinforced thermoplastics, and novel processing techniques for long glass fiber reinforced thermoplastic composites designed for structural automotive applications.

Since joining Virginia Tech, Ron has taught a wide range of courses, including several sections each of a Freshman "Engineering Fundamentals" course, a Freshman "Materials in Our World" course, a Sophomore "Elements of Materials Engineering" course, a Sophomore "Analytical Methods" course, a Sophomore "Life Cycle Assessment" course, a Senior/Graduate "Polymer
Engineering" course and it's associated "Polymer Engineering Laboratory" lab, a Graduate "Polymer Deformation and Fracture" course, and a Graduate "Engineering Mathematics" course. Ron has received several awards for teaching excellence, including the 1993 College of Engineering "Sporn Award", the 1997 "Dean's Teaching Award", and the 1998 "William E. Wine Award". He was also inducted into the Virginia Tech "Academy of Teaching Excellence" in 1998 and named a "Diggs Teaching Scholar" in 1999.

He has supervised 7 PhD and 12 MS students to matriculation, published more than 45 refereed papers, and presented more than 60 conference papers (including three invited Gordon Conference presentations). According to the ISI Science Citation Index, his papers have been cited more than 100 times since 1990.