Engineering students work on alternative fuel

Walking fast with her book bag on her back and cellphone in hand, Lin Wang looks like the majority of other students on the University of Miami, but this Beijing-born Ph.D. student participates in activities that confine her to the minority.

Wang is one of four graduate students under Hongtan Liu in the College of Engineering studying how to improve the durability of a cleaner source of energy known as fuel cells, which has sparked commercial interest.

“All companies are working with fuel cells,” Liu, director of the Fuel Cell Laboratory said. “I think it is the future.”

As the price of crude oil has increased, so has the interest in alternative forms of energy. Some students, like Wang, have taken advantage of the spiked interest by pursuing the fuel cell research field.

“Since I know oil will be used up soon, it is a problem the world is facing,” Wang said. “I believe the fuel cells are the promising device to replace the current energy device.”

Unlike the current fossil fuel system, fuel cell technology utilizes a membrane that facilitates the transfer of hydrogen through a cell, therefore producing emission-free energy in the form of electricity. This process aims to eliminate two problems associated with energy production.

“First, fuel cells are more efficient and reduce energy use,” Liu said. “The other is environmental-you reduce pollution and global warming pollutants.”

The technology of fuel cells is currently in use for space applications and can be used by many everyday portable devices such as laptops or electric generators. Another prospect for the use of fuel cells is in the future is in cars to lower the cost of fuel.

“If fuel cost increases then the fuel cell car makes more sense,” Liu said. “The fuel cost will lower because of the efficiency.”

The efficiency of the fuel cells in a car can enable the vehicle to receive mileage of 80 miles per gallon according to Liu.

However, since fuel cells require hydrogen to produce energy, the problem that occurs is cost. Mechanical engineering student Tommy Carpenter, who always had a great interest in cars, realizes the problem.

“Hydrogen is expensive to produce,” Carpenter, junior, said. “It requires a vast amount of electricity.”

In addition, car manufacturers would have to redesign cars to accommodate the fuel cell technology.

“When you jump in the car you can not just turn it on and drive away,” Swain, associate mechanical engineering professor, said. “The battery would drive the car first.”

The added cost for redesign would pose a burden to the car manufactures who would want to adopt the technology.

“It is going to be tough for companies to accept it,” Carpenter said. “For everyday consumers it would be easier to keep their crappy cars.”

Another problem Liu and Wang are exploring the fuel cell’s lack durability independent of another fuel cell.

“Fuels cells don’t last long,” Liu said. “One fuel cell is useless.”

While many of these problems lie in the application of fuel cells to the car industry, another is the funding of research projects to refine the technology.

“I think government can provide funding for students in this area,” Wang said.

After Liu drafted a proposal, Florida, Power, and Light (FPL) awarded the College of Engineering with The FPL Endowed Student Scholarship Fund worth $250,000 on March 6. The scholarship money will go to students of mechanical, industrial, computer, and electrical engineering who want to pursue studies in the areas of alternative energy and fuel cell technology.

Fabiola Stewart can be contacted at

April 28, 2006


The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami

Around the Web
  • Miami Herald
  • UM News
  • HurricaneSports

A six-pack of UM notes on a Friday: ▪ Four-star Oregon-based quarterback Michael Johnson Jr. told Ri ...

On the eve of her team’s NCAA Tournament opener, University of Miami coach Katie Meier took the oppo ...

The defeated and deflated Miami Hurricanes quietly packed up their bags and trudged out of their Ame ...

Even before Donte Ingram broke Miami’s heart and sent the Hurricanes home from the NCAA Tournament w ...

And so ends Miami's season. No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago's Donte Ingram hit a buzzer-beating ...

From bringing communities together to understanding the impacts of urbanization on the groundwater s ...

Novelist Jennine Capó Crucet’s book talk on March 20 explores belonging, identity, and what it means ...

Musical theatre students spent quality time learning (and laughing) with Avenue Q co-creator Jeff Ma ...

The University of Miami takes concrete steps to become the hemispheric university as it builds a rel ...

A UM physicist comments on the passing of British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. ...

The Canes closed out the Hurricane Invitational with a strong showing on the track and in the field ...

The University of Miami rowing team kicked off its spring season at the 2018 Oak Ridge Cardinal Invi ...

The Hurricanes fell behind early and could not recover Saturday afternoon, falling to No. 23 Duke, 4 ...

The University of Miami women's basketball team had its superb 2017-18 season come to an end Sa ...

The University of Miami men's tennis team will go into a match ranked for the first time this s ...

TMH Twitter Feed
About TMH

The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.