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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


    Fuel-Cell Thrift

    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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