, Associate Professor, UMD-Chemical Engineering
A hydrogen fuel cell combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, providing a clean, high-efficiency energy source that circumvents the problems associated with conventional batteries. A major drawback that limits its utility, however, is the use of heavy and bulky compressed metal cylinders as the source of hydrogen. Many ITS-based applications can be envisaged with hydrogen-based fuel cells (e.g., alternating-traffic signs, directional signals, speed-limit signs, blinkers in series, warning blinkers, backup power sources at traffic signals during power outages). This research sought to develop a prototype hydrogen-based fuel cell system for ITS devices. The project investigated hydrogen storage capacities of the various candidate chemical hydride analogs; selected the most efficient of the candidates for energy storage based on volume, mass, and cost; developed a prototype system; and estimated the capital and operating cost for such a system. The chemical-based hydrogen generation used in this project can provide a compact, atmospheric-pressure storage option for the controlled release of hydrogen. This system is particularly attractive because many remote traffic signals on northern Minnesota roads lack access to a power grid, requiring the use of batteries that must be changed often, thus incurring maintenance costs.