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Two Virginia Tech energy-related inventions win R&D 100 awards

Blacksburg, Va. -- Sensors invented by researchers with the Center for Photonics Technology, led by Electrical Engineering Professor Anbo Wang, will make oil wells more productive. Meanwhile, an economical fuel cell material created by faculty and students with the Macromolecules and Interfaces Institute, led by University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry James McGrath, will reduce our dependence on petroleum-based energy. R&D Magazine has selected both of these energy-related developments from Virginia Tech as two of the 100 most technologically significant new products of 2003.

All of this year's R&D 100 technologies will be announced in the September issue of R&D Magazine and the researchers will be honored at a banquet in Chicago on Oct. 14. Past winning technologies in the international judging have included the FAX machine and HDTV.

Polymer membranes make fuel cell production economically viable

McGrath and former student Michael Hickner (who received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering in 2003 and is now at Sandia National Lab) invented a high temperature proton exchange membrane (PEM) for fuel cells. Battelle has optioned rights to the patents and Bhima Vijayendran, Battelle senior research leader and vice president of commercialization, is developing products for commercialization -- introducing BattellionTM membranes for automotive, stationary, and portable power fuel cells.

Fuel cells convert chemical energy from hydrogen or methanol fuels into electrical energy. PEM fuel cells use an ion-containing polymer (a form of plastic) for this process. Electrons are captured to generate electricity and protons pass through the membrane film, then combine with oxygen to create a environmentally neutral water byproduct.

PEM fuel cells can be integrated into stacks to provide from .001 up to 250 kW of power, Vijayendran explained in the R&D 100 entry. Large units could be used in autos an
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Contact: Susan Trulove
strulove@vt.edu
540-231-5646
Virginia Tech
9-Sep-2004


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