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A researcher at The University of Western Ontario hopes that small steps he takes in his lab will help us address energy needs while helping us leave an even smaller footprint on the environment.
"Energy shortages and environmental pollution pose serious long-term challenges to the planet," says Mechanical & Materials Engineering professor Xueliang (Andy) Sun, named a Tier Two Canada Research Chair (CRC) in the Development of Nanomaterials for Fuel Cell Applications.
The ‘small steps' he takes are actually in the field of nanotechnology, which creates useful and functional materials, devices and systems through control of materials on the nanoscale, or one billionth of a metre - which is no small feat.
"We're trying to make nanomaterials to address clean energy," says Sun, who will receive $100,000 annually for the next five years to continue his work.
The CRC program also announced the renewal of Western's Victor Han, Tier One CRC in Fetal and Maternal Health ($200,000 annual for seven years) and Yining Huang, Tier Two CRC in Materials Characterization ($100,000 annually for five years).
For Sun, he hopes to accelerate the fuel cell commercialization process by combining nanomaterials with fuel cell electrodes to lower their cost and to increase their stability.
"There is a growing awareness that nanotechnology will have a profound impact on energy generation, storage and utilization," he says. "Fuel cells are energy conversion devices that are efficient, quiet and environmentally-friendly; however, high cost and low durability of electrodes still pose significant challenges."
Sun's lab is paying particular attention to the synthesis and characterization of carbon nanotubes and metal oxide nanowires. Carbon nanotubes are one-atom thick sheets of graphite rolled into seamless cylinders with a diameter of about one nanometre. They are 100-times harder than steel and four-times better than copper for electrical conductivity.
While Sun describes nanotubes as ‘the perfect structure,' difficulty mass-producing them remains their biggest downside. His lab hopes to address this shortcoming and to continue to improve fuel cell technology.
As an alternative to oil, protein exchange membrane fuel cells being developed in Sun's lab use hydrogen oxygen, producing a by-product of pure water and, at the same time, electricity. That's why, Sun says, it's good for the environment, and also for energy.
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