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April 23, 2002
Midwest Energy and Fort Hays State University have begun a joint venture for high schools in western Kansas, loaning a fuel cell for classroom study and student projects. Fort Hays State's Department of Technology Studies will be designing an "Adopt A Fuel Cell" curriculum allowing students to study fuel conversion processes and efficiency. The program will be available to high school students beginning next fall.
The fuel cell is a proton exchange membrane device used for stationary and vehicle use, and is designed and built by H Power, a New Jersey-based company. Midwest Energy was awarded the fuel cell in a contest conducted by ECO, a business formed by electric cooperatives from across the nation interested in promoting the use of new and emerging alternative energy technologies.
Dr. Edward H. Hammond, Fort Hays State University President, said, "We have known for a long time that our nation needs to develop a wiser energy policy that encourages the development and use of alternative and domestic sources of energy. The events of 9/11 have heightened public awareness of the need to move more quickly in that direction. Therefore, the university is pleased that Midwest Energy has taken the initiative to make education about fuel cells available to high school students in northwest Kansas."
Hammond continued, "The university and Midwest Energy have a long history of cooperating on various projects, so it was only natural that they sought help from the faculty in our Technology Studies Department to develop the fuel cell curriculum for the high schools. Our university enters into many partnerships with private businesses, and this is one of the most exciting partnerships that has come along in a while."
Gene Argo, President and General Manager of Midwest Energy stated, "As was announced earlier with our purchase of energy from the new wind farm in Gray County, this fuel cell technology is another alternative source of energy that Midwest Energy believes will benefit all our customers in the future. We think this is another excellent opportunity to work with Fort Hays State University and their Technology Studies Department to assist young people in learning about an energy source of the future."
"Dr. Bob Howell and I are very excited about the opportunity to get involved in this project," said Joe Chretien, assistant professor of technology studies. "Alternative technologies such as this fuel cell represent the direction we want for our Power and Energy Program in the Department of Technology Studies. Today's youth need to see first-hand the application of such emerging technologies that will power our homes and our cars. Very little is known about the use of hydrogen in a fuel cell. We see this project as an opportunity to develop a piece of curriculum that has the potential to educate and excite young people."
"Working with Midwest Energy and H Power will be a great learning experience as we develop the 'Adopt a Fuel Cell' curriculum," Chretien added. "We hope to someday use fuel cell technology to power our own electric truck research vehicle and to use fuel cell technology as an integral part of our curriculum."
Fuel Cells are not yet mainstream energy sources, but fuel cells have been used for years in the space industry to provide power on space shuttles. Fuel cells that power automobiles, houses and smaller electric loads are currently being field-tested. It is estimated that mainstream use of fuel cell vehicles may begin by 2010.
This fuel cell uses hydrogen gas; future units will include a reformer that converts natural gas, propane or other fuels to hydrogen. Through a series of chemical reactions, the hydrogen is converted into electricity, heat and water. Because there is no combustion in the fuel cell, the entire system releases almost no polluting emissions, therefore making the technology very environmentally friendly.
Many researchers, scientists and leaders are calling for the development of a hydrogen economy to gradually replace today's fossil fuel economy and our reliance on foreign oil.
During the presentation to the media, Midwest Energy and Fort Hays State University used the fuel cell to produce electricity to operate a computer laptop and video projector.