SDSU engineering students to work with fuel cell


Electrical engineering students at South Dakota State University will soon be working with a new technology – a commercial-production fuel cell.

Fuel cells convert chemical energy into electricity without burning fuel. The fuel cell has an anode terminal and cathode terminal, like a battery. A tank of hydrogen provides the fuel supply. Through a chemical process, hydrogen molecules are split into protons and electrons, creating electron flow or electricity.

The only emission from the generator is water and heat.

“Having a fuel cell increases opportunities for our electrical engineering students during senior-design projects. Many of our students have shown keen interest in renewable-energy alternatives,” said associate professor of electrical engineering Steve Hietpas.

A group of Touchstone Energy Cooperatives donated the latest in alternative-energy research to the SDSU Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department on Sept. 16.

The donated unit, called an “E-Pac 500,” produces enough electricity to illuminate five 100-watt light bulbs. The device is about the size of a window air-conditioner and several units could be stacked together to increase power production.

Jim Edwards, assistant general manager-operations for East River Electric Power Cooperative, a member of the Center’s Board and 1983 SDSU alumnus, presented the high-tech device to the engineering department.

East River and its member electric distribution systems obtained the unit while participating in fuel cell market research.

“This fuel cell is designed to produce electricity for low-power applications,” Edwards said. “They are being installed as a power supply at remote installations that are not connected to the electric grid, such as communication towers. Also, fuel cells could be a continuous power source, with the electric grid supplying any additional power needed, or used as a back-up power supply.”

During 2001-2002, East River, its member systems and Touchstone Energy Cooperatives around the nation participated in a fuel cell research project on developing an alternative-power supply for rural homes and other low-power applications.

The fuel cell was presented during the Department’s Center for Power System Studies annual banquet in Brookings.