"The purpose of my research is to design and develop affordable solid oxide fuel cell technology with more fuel flexibility and higher power output."

Chemical engineer and Bucknell alumnus Michael Gross, Class of 2003, expects fuel cells to be a vital part of meeting the world's growing energy demands. He's working to make sure they fulfill that potential.

Fuel cells, devices that generate electricity from electrochemical reactions, have several advantages over other technologies. Put the same amount of fuel, such as propane, natural gas, or other hydrocarbons, into a fuel cell and an internal combustion engine, for instance. The fuel cell will extract more power, generate less pollution, and do it silently. What's more, fuel cells are portable and scalable.

"You can use fuel cells to power a cell phone and you can use fuel cells to power a campus," Gross says. "Fuel cell systems are right now being used to generate power for university campuses and hospitals. You can imagine making them even larger."

Although fuel cells are in use today, improving their design could make them even more attractive by bringing down costs, boosting efficiency and making them more flexible in terms of the kinds of fuel they can use. 

Gross is focused on one particular type, called solid oxide fuel cells. "The purpose of my research is to design and develop affordable solid oxide fuel cell technology with more fuel flexibility and higher power output," he says. "The way I think we will achieve that is by using novel materials and creative designs of electrode microstructures."

For the past 10 years, Gross has been testing different materials by making and testing them in the laboratory. More recently, he has shifted his approach. Together with chemical engineer Ryan Snyder, he has been developing computational tools - computer models - to more rapidly identify better materials and configurations.

But never mind the potential of Gross' research to help change the world's energy future. He'd rather talk about students. "I've had about 25 research students and 12 have published their work in good scientific journals," he says. "To me, that is important." 

Gross is eager to provide students the same experience he had at Bucknell. "When I was a student, I had a tremendous research mentor, and that is still paying off for me in big ways," he says. "It's important for me that I am able to provide those opportunities for students, too." In 2013, Gross was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation, allowing him to better understand and support student intrinsic motivation in STEM courses.

"The most satisfying part of my job is really about mentoring and working with students," Gross says. "Just the opportunity to mentor bright, dynamic people - through research, in the classroom or outside of the classroom - is very satisfying to me. I think that is part of what makes Bucknell special." 

Posted October 3, 2013


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