Q&A with Yanhai Du, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the College of Aeronautics and Engineering
Office of Sustainability Newsletter February 2021
Team Leader and Principal Investigator (PI) of Kent State University's Fuel Cell Program and Additive Manufacturing Research Program
Editorial Board of the Sustainability journal, Energy Sustainability section
Journal Reviewer for over 20 journals, including Nature;
Grant proposal panelist for National Science Foundation and European Union
What sparked your interest in fuel cells?
My interest in fuel cells is to address global warming. Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is a major contributor to global warming. Fuel cells are widely regarded as the pinnacle of power generation reliability and efficiency far exceeding that of traditional thermal power systems and could be a bridge from the fossil fuel era to the renewable energy era.
What are your favorite accomplishments or projects you have worked on so far?
Currently I am leading a Team of four universities (KSU, CWRU, UD, WSU) and one industry (Event 38) to create a hybrid fuel cell-battery-capacitor power for UAV, enabling the UAV (or drone) to potentially fly up to 12 hours. Currently a commercial drone can only fly for 25-40 minutes.
What is your favorite part of your position?
The freedom of research and the creation of technologies that tackle the real world challenges.
What has been a favorite course that you teach? What do you enjoy about it?
Introduction to Sustainability (ENGR 27210). I love to see more and more students who are passionate about sustainability. If every student has some kind of sustainability education, I believe after several generations, we will have a cleaner sky and be on the right track to be carbon-neutral.
Can you tell us more about how you are advancing sustainability? What initiatives have helped create sustainable systems or lower greenhouse gas emissions? (From the spiral cell fuel cell, JP jet desulfizer, ZEV etc- I feel like I only know the tip of the iceberg).
In addition to fuel cells, my second major research direction is additive manufacturing, a leading-edge technology that frees design innovation and great savings of material. This technology is advancing the manufacturing industry to be more sustainable and efficient.
Can you tell us what factors contribute to Ohio’s role as an internationally recognized global center for the fuel cell industry?
Ohio is ranked among the Top Five states in the nation by the U.S. Department of Energy for supportive policies and incentives that have proven to encourage fuel cell installations, industry research, and development and business expansion. Ohio is rich in manufacturing resources and is touted to have the best manufacturing supply chain in the nation. In Ohio, we have leading fuel cell companies (e.g. Plug Power ), new fuel cell startups (e.g. Special Power Sources) and pioneers who turned fuel cell science into applications (e.g. NASA’s Apollo Program and Stark Area Regional Transit Authority’s fuel cell bus program). The Ohio Fuel Cell Coalition is a regional fuel cell trade organization representing industry, academic, and government leaders working to strengthen Ohio’s fuel cell industry. The OFCC works to connect fuel cell experts, integrators, suppliers, and other stakeholders, nationally and globally, to advance the industry.
How will fuel cells revolutionize the future?
In addition to being more efficient, fuel cells are modular and can be compatible to renewable energy. That means, the fuel cell applications could be as small as a few watts to charge a cellphone or as large as power station in megawatts. Some fuel cells could be operated as a reversible cell (generate electricity from fuels, or using renewable energy to create hydrogen from water).
How can fuel cells make our world cleaner?
Our world is running on fossil fuel with 70-80% of our energy from burning coal, natural gas or oil. A fuel cell is 2 to 3 times as efficient as a traditional thermal power system. Therefore, using fuel cells could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 70%.
What do you want the people of Kent State to know about you and your position as a College or Aeronautics and Engineering Professor (or any other roles you have)?
Engineering enable you to flight high and far! Students trained at CAE are employed by or interned at Tesla Gigafactory, a high school student interned at our Fuel Cell Lab admitted by Harvard University. CAE can lead you a bright future.
What do you see is the future of solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) technology in Ohio and/or globally?
Because of the fuel flexibility (hydrogen, natural gas, diesel, jet fuel, bio fuel etc.), solid oxide fuel cell technology has its irreplaceable role in the clean energy mix.
What was the motive for creating the Zero Emission Vehicle?
Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles are much more difficult to capture than other centralized emission locations (e.g. coal fire plants). Also for large cities (e.g. NYC, LA), if the city vehicles are zero emission, the cities would be much cleaner and healthier.