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Fuel-Cell Thrift : 4th Young Inventors Award (Winner : Silver)
Oleh : Pramudita Anggraita
Sabtu, 24 Januari 2004 (06:51 WIB) dari IP 22.214.171.124
4TH YOUNG INVENTORS AWARDS: WINNERS: SILVER
A revolutionary carbon material may make the mass production of some
fuel cells feasible
By Kim Jung Min/SEOUL
Issue cover-dated January 22, 2004
REMEMBER THIS YOUNG MAN: Han Sang Jin. A doctoral student in applied
chemistry at Seoul National University, Han may one day be remembered as the
man who closed an enormous research gap for his nation in a technology that
could change the world.
The technology involves making fuel cells that could power everything
from cars to mobile phones without producing pollution. Fuel cells have
existed for years, but the cost of producing them has been prohibitive.
Han's contribution is to create a carbon-material production technology that
may result in dramatic manufacturing-cost reductions.
His achievement, which Han terms the "synthesis of new carbon
materials for fuel-cell electrodes," has received the Silver Award in the
REVIEW's 4th Young Inventors Awards.
A fuel cell operates like a battery in its delivery of electricity.
The difference is that while a battery stores electricity that's been
generated elsewhere, a fuel cell is like a tiny factory that produces power
as needed and thus needn't be recharged or discarded when it is spent. A
fuel cell consists of two electrodes sandwiched around an electrolyte.
Electricity is generated from an electrochemical reaction in which oxygen
and hydrogen combine.
Although fuel-cell technology is still in its infancy from an
industrial standpoint, due mostly to the cost of the materials and the
difficulty of safely and inexpensively delivering hydrogen to the cell, Han
is optimistic. The fact that fuel cells have so much potential should
continue to drive improvements, he says. "The technology will bring so much
benefit to countries like Korea that must rely on imports," he says.
The present high cost of producing fuel cells is a big hurdle.
Platinum, an expensive precious metal, is widely used as a catalyst on some
fuel-cell electrodes. But the carbon materials created by Han and his
research team improve the efficiency of such cells, so that they can produce
the same amount of electricity with only one-sixth as much platinum.
In 2002, after three-and-a-half years of trial and error, Han and his
research team finally achieved the breakthrough they had been seeking to
improve the performance and stability of fuel cells using their new carbon
There have been numerous kinds of fuel cells developed, many of which
won't need Han's new material. But he has developed a material that allows
one especially promising kind of fuel cell to produce the same energy much
less expensively than before. "It's exceedingly simple and inexpensive. That
is a big breakthrough," says Hyeon Taeg Hwan, who supervised the project as
a professor at Seoul National University's School of Chemical Engineering.
Hyeon is thrilled. He believes the new carbon material could enable
South Korea to stay a step ahead of its global competitors in the
development of fuel-cell technology. Many industry experts believe that the
nation lags about five to seven years behind the United States and Japan.
Han filed a U.S. patent application in October 2003. He says two local
companies have shown interest in investing in the technology and one global
battery company approached them.
Han says he's always wanted to work in a field of science that could
produce tangible benefits for his country. South Korea is the sixth-largest
crude-oil consumer and the fourth-largest crude-oil importer in the world.
"Renewable energy is a hot field. And Korea should be more serious about
developing a new source of energy than anyone else in the world," says the
Han wants to continue his research and would like to focus on the
creation of tiny machines and devices, known as nanotechnology. But he says
he is uncertain about the prospects in South Korea for professional
researchers like himself. "The reason why young Korean students are shying
away from science and engineering is the relatively low pay and . . . lower
social status. It's important to give incentives to young students to study
engineering and science and to boost the morale of scientists," he says.
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