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Fuel Cells and Portable Power Solutions

02/21/2006 6:00 PM Museum
Donald Sadoway, John F. Elliott Professor of Materials Chemistry; Department of Materials Science Engineering;

Description: Please don't get Donald Sadoway going on hydrogen power, a much-hyped government alternative to fossil fuel. "If anyone thinks the answer to the energy problem can fit on a bumper sticker, you're wrong. Complex problems require elaborate solutions," says Sadoway. He knocks the hydrogen fuel cell, delineating its many deficiencies: the catalyst required for the electrochemical conversion reaction is pricey platinum; if we use hydrocarbons as a source for hydrogen, we're putting more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than we're removing; and it's unlikely people will wish to drive with a high temperature reactor under their seats, or locate large stores of raw fuel "down at the station at the corner." Ultimately, hydrogen will simply cost too much to be an effective fuel alternative, and it doesn't address climate change, says Sadoway.

He puts his stock instead in batteries, which, since they were invented around 1800, have been steadily improving in performance and range of applications. From lead acid batteries, through nickel metal hydride to lithium ion, "we're raising the ceiling higher and higher," says Sadoway, referring to the number of watt-hours a battery provides. But we have not yet arrived at the battery powered vehicle yet because the government has directed research elsewhere and because private money is more interested in batteries for laptops and cell phones. Sadoway is convinced: "If we put our money into battery research (the all-electric vehicle) would be here right now. This is a resource-limited problem."

Sadoway also responds to audience questions concerning China and India's economic development, fusion power, and the need for a range of solutions to address energy issues.

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About the Speaker(s): Donald Sadoway has taught at MIT since 1977. His research seeks to establish the scientific underpinnings for technologies that make efficient use of energy and natural resources in an environmentally sound manner. He holds a number of patents, and has served as principal editor of the Journal of Materials Research as well as a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Light Metals. He holds the Bose Award for Teaching in the School of Engineering at MIT, 1997. He received a B.A.Sc.in Engineering Science,and an M.A. Sc.and Ph.D.in Chemical Metallurgy from the University of Toronto.

Host(s): Office of the Provost, MIT Museum

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

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