For the past six years, seven of Florida’s state universities
have been working together to conduct research and develop a variety
of hydrogen technologies through a grant from the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration (NASA) Glenn Research Center in Cleveland,
Ohio. These research activities have been conducted under the Hydrogen
Research at Florida Universities program that was managed and led
by the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC). Participating universities
included Florida International University, Florida State University,
Florida A&M University, University of Central Florida, University
of South Florida, University of West Florida, and the University of
The dark spot in the "smart
tape" indicates a hydrogen leak around the
(Photo: Nick Waters )
The research projects conducted during this program revolved around
developing hydrogen technologies that could supply NASA’s need
for hydrogen fuel, ensure safe handling of hydrogen fuel, deliver
new power options, and provide a means to decrease the high costs
of the launch process. Specific technology developments were made
for hydrogen production and storage, rapid detection of hydrogen,
hydrogen and helium separation processes, fuel cell power systems,
and the education of students.
The hydrogen technologies were developed for NASA’s use in space and spaceport applications. However, some of the projects have more common applications for the use of hydrogen on Earth. One such technology is the novel hydrogen sensing tape, called “Smart Tape”, which turns color from light brown to dark gray when hydrogen gas is detected. Since hydrogen is a colorless and odorless gas that cannot be easily detected, this tape rapidly pin points the location of hydrogen leaks.
|FSEC researchers test a pilot-scale hydrogen production
unit used for reforming landfill gas into hydrogen.
(Photo: Nick Waters )
One of the most successful projects was the development of methods
for extracting and producing hydrogen from common Florida waste materials.
In the Brevard County area, FSEC researchers developed and constructed
an operating pilot facility that produced hydrogen using landfill
gas. Results showed that the landfill gas site in Cocoa, Fla., could
produce enough hydrogen to fuel 100 Space Shuttle launches. A similar
hydrogen production process was developed using discarded automobile
lubricant oils, a toxic waste product.
Many significant technical achievements have been made from this
research endeavor. The university researchers involved in this program
have written more than 250 technical publications on their efforts
and given more than 200 presentations to national audiences on project
results during the last two years of the program alone. In addition,
results from the projects have led to the filing of more than 20 patents.
“This is the first time several of Florida’s state universities
have worked simultaneously on one grant, achieving one common goal,” said
Dr. David Block, FSEC Director Emeritus and project leader. “It
has by far been the most positive collaborative opportunity that the
state university system has been involved in.”
The cooperative nature of this NASA grant has served as an enabling
tool for the participating universities to obtain more than $6 million
in the past two years from other federal agencies. These additional
projects are based on work related to this NASA effort.
While the program focused mainly on research and development, education
and public outreach also played an important part. These activities
included faculty and graduate student employment and incorporation
of research projects into educational activities, ranging from undergraduate
student projects to doctorate dissertations.
As part of FSEC’s contribution to the education and outreach
initiatives for this program, fuel cell short courses were developed
by FSEC and have been offered for the past three years. FSEC has also
successfully accomplished the incorporation of hydrogen education
in K-12 student and teacher programs through the development of curriculum,
professional development for teachers and special events for students.
Events such as student field trips and teacher training sessions have
brought nearly 800 students, teachers and parents to the facility
each year for instruction on hydrogen, solar, and energy efficiency.
The program ended in March, 2008, but FSEC and the participating
universities will continue to work toward supplying hydrogen for the
current demand and eventually as the nation’s future fuel source