Princeton scientists have high hopes for hydrogen

March 31, 2003 10:41 a.m.

In the lab of Professor of Chemistry Andy Bocarsly, the automobile of the future takes the form of a thin plastic film bolted between graphite and copper plates.

The device, about the size of a portable CD player, is a working fuel cell. Searing hot to the touch, it is connected to tubes and wires that carry pure hydrogen in one side and water and electric current out the other. It is the latest test model in Bocarsly's four-year-old study of fuel cells, particularly those that might be used in powering automobiles.

Bocarsly's lab , which collaborates on the project with Jay Benziger of chemical engineering, is one of several Princeton research groups investigating the science, technology and public policies needed to bring hydrogen fuel into widespread use. The subject has taken on a new focus with President Bush's announcement in January of an initiative to promote hydrogen as a next-generation fuel -- with a hydrogen-powered "FreedomCAR" as the centerpiece goal.

At the Princeton Environmental Institute , scientists are analyzing a range of technical issues related to the "hydrogen economy," including the best ways of producing and distributing the gas. In mechanical and aerospace engineering, Professor Chung Law is studying interim uses of hydrogen in combination with conventional fuels as well as issues of safety.

On March 5, Joan Ogden, a research scientist at the Princeton Environmental Institute and longtime analyst of alternative fuels, testified before the House Committee on Science as part of a hearing on "The Path to a Hydrogen Economy." The hearing was the first formal effort by Congress to respond to Bush's hydrogen initiative, and Ogden was the only academic scientist among five panelists from government and industry.

"Hydrogen fuel cells, although they are long term, potentially have a very high payoff," Ogden told the committee. "And I think they deserve signi- ficant government support now -- insurance, if nothing else, that they will be ready in 15 or 20 years if we want to deploy them on a very wide basis."

The full story is available in the Weekly Bulletin.

Contact: Lauren Robinson-Brown (609) 258-3601