Villanova University Chemist Looks to Create Higher Efficient, Alternative Sources of Renewable Energy

New research from Villanova University chemist

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Renewable energy makes up a small portion of the world’s energy sources – less than 10 percent. A Villanova University chemistry professor is seeking to increase that percentage in his latest research project, by creating an alternate source or more efficient use of renewable energy through a developed fuel cell electrode catalyst.

Bryan Eigenbrodt, PhD, has a passion for researching renewable energy. His latest work, in collaboration with colleagues from Montana State University, is the first-of-its-kind in modifying the chemical composition of the perovskite anode catalyst associated with fuel oxidation. Perovskite is a cube-like, black and brown colored mineral discovered in Russia in the 19th century. Adjusting the makeup of the mineral can help increase its efficiency.

“It’s like the game Jenga,” said Eigenbrodt. “You can pull atoms from this perovskite compound and still maintain its structure, similar to how you’d pull the blocks from a Jenga tower. If you remove too many atoms, it’ll fall apart like the tower will. Basically, we are removing atoms and replacing them with other atoms to increase conductivities and catalytic properties of these materials to create a more efficient energy.”

Combustible engines operate at 15-20 percent efficiency, whereas fuel cells can reach up to 80 percent efficiency. Fuel cells don’t make as much noise and have longer ranges, but run on hydrogen, which can be dangerous store because it is highly combustible and it is expensive to make. However, through Eigenbrodt’s work, fuel cells can work with a catalyst that interacts with renewable hydrocarbons fuels, like alcohols. Coupling the renewable aspect of alcohol fuels with SOFC’s high fuel conversion efficiencies is also significant because this combination can now lead to alternative energy devices that are more environmentally responsible and an efficient source of energy.

This research will be published in the forthcoming issue of ChemElectroChem. The issue will also feature a spotlight on Eigenbrodt and his research team, which can be viewed here.

During the summer of 2018, Eigenbrodt traveled with his undergraduate and graduate students to Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, IL to utilize their particle accelerator to understand the fundamental science behind the catalysts to make them more efficient. Eigenbrodt is also working on the relationship between algae and fuel cells and how the alcohol produced from algae can produce biofuels.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges—the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit www.villanova.edu.