Student Research

Research and Development for a Chemically Powered Vehicle

The objective of this project was to research, design, build, and test a vehicle that would compete well at the 2014 American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Regional and National Che-E-Car Competition. This project was approached by seven chemical engineering students and one faculty advisor. According to the competition’s official rules, students had to design a prototype car. Initial research included consideration of possible power systems for a chemically powered vehicle. A decision analysis was conducted for each of the proposed power options. The reversible Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) fuel cell was chosen as the best power system for our application. Our project illustrates how a reversible PEM fuel cell converts water to hydrogen and oxygen by use of electrolysis. By providing energy from an external power source such as a battery, water can be dissociated into the diatomic molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen fuel is channeled to the anode on one side of the fuel cell, while oxygen from the air is channeled to the cathode on the other side of the cell. At the anode, a platinum catalyst causes the hydrogen to split into hydronium ions and electrons. The PEM only allows the protons to pass through to the cathode while the electrons travel along the external circuit to the cathode thus creating an electrical current, powering our motor. It is a pollution free energy source and technology that has not been fully developed yet to become an alternative fuel source for the future.

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