The following article was published in the spring 2012 issue of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division News, the quarterly newsletter of the EET Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Scientific advancements often arise from patiently building upon previous efforts, clarifying the path to a desired outcome, and following that path to a successful conclusion. Then again, there are times when it’s prudent to draw on the past, but cut a new path altogether; heading for the same destination along a different route.
When it comes to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s (Berkeley Lab’s) fuel cell work, John Kerr takes the second approach. His group’s work complements that of Berkeley Lab researcher Adam Weber’s group, which examines fuel cell issues through mathematical modeling and diagnostics. Read a story about Adam Weber’s research here.) Both groups collaborate with private industry, universities, and other national laboratories to overcome operational and economic barriers to fuel cell use, but Kerr’s group employs a different strategy.
“We’re more far out there,” he laughs. “As an engineer, Adam is focused on understanding what we have already and how to make it work better. I’m a chemist. I don’t need to make it work. My job is to find out why it doesn’t work and figure out how it might. There is a strong emphasis on the chemistry.”
Kerr’s group examines the fundamental mechanisms of fuel cells from a molecular level on up, looking at entirely different materials and processes than those used currently.
“Some fuel cells out there are working better than others, but no one—including the people who developed them—are absolutely certain why they are working better. We look at the why, so that we can find untapped materials and processes to improve overall fuel cell efficiency and reduce costs.”
Read the rest.