Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

News Release

Contact: Joe King, Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-4299

October 7, 2004

NIU gets grant to partner with Argonne on fuel cell research

DEKALB, IL—A recent federal grant may allow Northern Illinois University to play a role in reshaping the power and transportation industries of the future.

The $745,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration will enable NIU to partner with internationally respected researchers at Argonne National Laboratory to jumpstart research efforts into fuel cells. Any advances made at the university could contribute to the creation of commercially viable fuel cells to power cars, buses and other vehicles and to create new ways of generating electricity for use in homes and industry.


“This is an important area of research that we are excited to enter,” said NIU President John Peters. “We are extremely grateful to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Congresswoman Judy Biggert, R-Ill., who were instrumental in helping us secure this funding."


This one-year grant will allow the university to set up a lab and begin collaborative research efforts that will draw upon the skills of scientists from the university’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology as well as from its departments of Chemistry and Physics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. They will be assisted in their efforts by researchers from Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, a global leader in fuel cell research for decades.


“The partnership with Argonne is critical to the success of this project,” said Promod Vohra, acting dean of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology and director of the project. “Argonne has a long history of promoting research and innovation. We look forward to working with them.”


Vohra said he is hopeful that this grant is the first of many. In the not too distant future, he said, the university hopes to expand the fuel cell project to include the purchase of a test vehicle—most likely a bus—which could be operated on campus to evaluate new developments and to increase awareness of fuel cell technology.


Fuel cells, which were first discovered more than 150 years ago, use an electrochemical process to convert hydrogen gas into electricity. The primary byproduct created by fuel cells is water. While they are becoming increasingly common, work remains to make them commercially viable on a large scale.


“A breakthrough in this technology would address important national concerns, perhaps ultimately freeing the country from the reliance on foreign oil and dramatically reducing air pollution,” Vohra points out.


Those benefits were among the reasons that Hastert was willing to champion the cause of NIU researchers anxious to enter this field.


“Fuel cells hold tremendous potential as a new, renewable and non-polluting source of energy for America. I am delighted that this grant will allow some of NIU’s finest researchers to partner with Argonne National Laboratory to turn that potential into reality,” said Hastert.


The grant helps keep Illinois in the forefront of those efforts, pointed out Congresswoman Biggert.


“This grant will help our scientists move our nation closer to the goal of reducing our dependence on foreign energy sources," said Biggert, Chairman of the Energy Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science.  "By bringing together NIU's talent and Argonne's expertise in hydrogen and fuel cell research, Illinois will continue to be a leader.  Fuel cell research presents a unique opportunity for economic development throughout our region.”


NIU professors joining Vohra on the project include Anima Bose, an adjunct associate professor in mechanical engineering, who will serve as associate director of the project; Pradip Majumdar, a professor in mechanical engineering; Petr Vanysek, an associate professor of chemistry and Brogdan Dabrowski a professor in physics.