RIT gets NIST Funding for Prototype Fuel Cell Lawn Mower

August 03, 2014 by Jeff Shepard

Rochester Institute of Technology's Golisano Institute for Sustainability (GIS) has received nearly $100,000 from the Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to fund the final phase of fuel cell research designed to create a prototype residential power system. The $98,888 in NIST funding will leverage earlier work conducted in two earlier phases of the program by Thomas Trabold, associate professor at GIS, and a team of researchers at the institute. The use of fuel cell technology for residential power applications is seen as environmentally beneficial to ultimately replace systems based on hydrocarbon combustion, according to Trabold.

“Thanks to this funding, we’ll be able to build upon our earlier work to use this final stage to develop a prototype,” Trabold said. “In addition to hardware design, we’ll be integrating a propane fuel reformer and fuel cell stack before the assembly of a fuel cell-based system.” A lawn mower was selected for this latest research because it is a common device with many commercially available options, he noted. “The expectation is that a successful demonstration on this platform will provide a solid foundation upon which a more versatile residential power system—with multiple applications—can be developed,” Trabold said.

For this phase of the research and development activity, he noted, several existing pieces of test equipment will be employed in the fuel cell laboratory inside the GIS building, including full system test stands that can control blends of gases needed for prototypic evaluation of individual or combined system components.

GIS was established in 2007 with a $10 million gift from Paychex Inc. founder and philanthropist B. Thomas Golisano. RIT was awarded a $13.1 million grant by the NIST Construction Grant Program, and $15 million in funding from the state of New York that was used toward construction of the facility and equipment.

Partners and affiliates include Xerox Corp., Staples Inc., Caterpillar Inc., Eastman Kodak, and Rochester Midland Corp., with support from the Henry Luce Foundation, the Helen and Ritter Shumway Foundation, and the Chester F. and Dorris Carlson Charitable Trust.