Undergrads win hydrogen production contest
True to its name, the homemaker’s hydrogen generator featured a reactor vessel from
Walmart and a whole lot of caulk.
The student-made device also produced enough clean-burning hydrogen fuel to win first place in an
international competition sponsored by the International Association for Hydrogen Energy (IAHE). The
all-undergraduate team put about $600 worth of materials into its device, which used a solar panel to
produce electricity that split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
“We realized we couldn’t compete with the scientific literature in terms of
time, resources and knowledge,” said Katherine Song, a senior majoring in electrical engineering,
and co-captain of the 10-student team. “We took a low-level approach that anyone could understand.”
The project started in the fall of 2009 when seniors Jane Yang and Yin Liang, both chemical and
biological engineering majors, started a Princeton student chapter of the IAHE with Professor Jay Benziger
as the club’s adviser. With the contest as the club’s first venture, the students worked
through the winter, hitting numerous roadblocks, including an inexplicable lack of hydrogen.
“One day I just went nuts with the caulk,” said Song. The problem, which turned
out to be many tiny leaks, was solved.
The students’ write-up of their results, titled “A portable hydrogen generator
for the homemaker,” is due to be published in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy. Their
win also allows them to send five students to the World Hydrogen Energy Conference in Toronto in June 2012.
The project received support from the Kurtz Fund for Innovation in Engineering Education.