Faculty Fellows: Operating off the Grid

Research Problem: Develop alternative energy technologies that improve current thermal systems while reducing harmful emissions by furthering the understanding and application of fuel cells in the energy field.
Lab t0 Market: Joengmin Ahn and his research group are experimenting with flame-assisted fuel cells to convert chemical reaction with heat directly to electricity. The idea is to modify existing home furnace/boiler systems with flame-assisted fuel cells that could generate electricity while generating heat, allowing it to run off grid. “If you lose power, your furnace/boiler could still be operated to supply heat and hot water and also generate enough electricity to run your lights and your refrigerator,” Ahn says. When the power is on, the flame-assisted fuel cell technology can offset residential electrical loads up to 20 percent during peak hours of operation, reducing demand on the grid and the electric bill. “Flame-assisted fuel cell technology has the potential to provide a resilient and efficient solution for residents during power interruptions,” says Ahn, who has received interest from potential commercial partners. He has six patents issued or pending related to fuel-cell technology.
SyracuseCoE Connection: Ahn runs Syracuse University’s Combustion and Energy Research (COMER) Lab, which is located at SyracuseCoE. The new 1,500-square-foot lab was designed by Ahn and is equipped with state-of the-art instrumentation specifically to fabricate fuel cells, batteries, and other electrochemical devices and to characterize and test them with thermo chemical systems. In 2013, Ahn received funding from SyracuseCoE’s AM-TEC initiative, allowing him to demonstrate proof-of concept of the flame-assisted fuel cell and to publish several papers. Subsequently, he has received SyracuseCoE assistance with additional funding proposals; most recently, he won a competitive award from NYSERDA to advance the project.
Extra Credit: Ahn teaches a Syracuse University course on Fuel Cell Science and Technology for both undergraduate and graduate engineering students, one of the few of its kind in the country. The class is held at SyracuseCoE, including time spent in classroom space and in his lab. “Students go to my lab and actually fabricate and test their own fuel cells,” he explains. “It gives them hands-on learning experience working on real-world problems.”