La Verne Magazine
Fuel Cell Fuels the Future
by Stacey Mleczko
photography by Liz Lucsko
Capturing audiences far beyond La Verne on NBC, Dr. Iraj Parchamazad and
Research Assistant Dan Herrig explain the intricacy of the new developments
in fuel cell technology that ideally will bail California out of its energy
Working in the midst of rolling blackouts and third stage electrical
alerts, University of La Verne professors Dr. Iraj Parchamazad and Dr. Jay
Jones tinker with chemicals, formulas and proposals while research assistant
Dan Herrig tools with the concrete nuts and bolts of their ideas.
All efforts focus on the crucial development of a fuel cell. The cell,
a battery-like machine, transforms purified water and clean-burning fuels
like ethyl methanol or propane into the everyday energy demands of life
through chemical reaction rather than combustion. It works as a long-lasting,
quiet and fuel-efficient generator that will eliminate nuclear and fossil
fuel energy production. This cell fuels promises of an environment free
of pollutants, noise and fossil fuel usage for the necessities of life,
heat, water and electricity.
Other corporations and countries have been in search of such technology,
and many fuel cell prototypes exist. Dr. Parchamazad and his predecessor,
Dr. Justi, built the original alkaline fuel cell in Germany in 1979. It
fell short of the mass market because of corrosion and unrealistic expense.
While the true origins of fuel cell research stem from approximately 150
years ago, what makes Dr. Parchamazad's fuel cell a breakthrough in technology
lies in the smallest twist of a coil and added beaker or two. Behind the
cardboard petition in the basement of Founders Hall secretly rests a twin
washing machine-like contraption. The bee-buzzing hum coming from the machine
distracts no classrooms in its distance and draws no attention. In fact,
the seclusion of the project goes unnoticed by most because few students
even know of its existence.
The fuel cell generator feeds 110 volts of electricity into recreational
vehicles, the industry to which the ULV scientists are currently focusing
on mass marketing their invention. The by products of this small, quiet
provider, cogenerates hot water, heat and fresh water making efficiency
run at an all-time high of 80 percent, while supplying RV users with resources
they would otherwise need to pay for. It is a tool of convenience to the
Creating a low-pressure reformer that allows a safer fuel intake in
the system makes all the difference between competitor fuel cells and moves
scientists and society many steps closer to taking homes off the traditional
Another unique characteristic to this ULV project is in the approach.
These men are drawing on the development differently than their competitors.
They envision a 10-year process that gradually results in the use of biological
hydrogen and recycled waste to fuel energy needs. Dr. Jones explains, "Solar
hydrogen produced by direct photolysis or biological means is two generations
ahead. Work has already begun. We must pursue this technology for the health
of the planet and the economy."
Dr. Parchamazad proposes that every two years represent a step or generation
toward full efficiency without fuel. "Other companies competing in
the industry are improving existing technology, but that is not good enough.
We are dealing with emerging technology. Everything is confidential; there
are many stages, and innovation is a big part," he says. The confidentiality
that Dr. Parchamazad refers to is hidden under lock and key at the University.
As California digs, borrows and steals valuable electricity, three men
bond brainpower behind the scenes to create a solution. And power is exactly
what generates the patenting of this fuel cell. In all aspects, he who possesses
the knowledge and patent of a breakthrough in technology such as this, is
the most powerful person, university, company and nation in the world.
Therefore, tremendous pressure weighs on three protecting patents that
are pending on related technologies, including propane reforming without
utilization of a compressor, an enhanced reforming catalyst that produces
reduced levels of carbon monoxide, and a new purification system for the
hydrogen. Joint proposals from the University of La Verne and the Naval
Air Warfare Center Weapons Division have been submitted to the Defense Advanced
Research Project Agency (DARPA), and to the Department of Energy.
"The government is pushing these projects so the United States
gains the technology before anyone else. It is a National Security issue
for the United States. With this technology, we cannot be deleted [as the
most powerful nation in the world] because energy is the most important,"
stresses Dr. Parchamazad. "Fuel cell technology will help us maintain
our leading economical and political position in the world."
"This research effort is a solid theoretical approach to solving
practical problems. It is science at its best," says Jones.
This science project has electrified a great partnership. The University
of La Verne, in connection with its science faculty, has joined Clean Fuel
Generation, LLC (CFG), a company created in the process of this project
to help support the continued research and development of an alternative
fuel. Sanjeev Kumar, a co-founder of CFG, says the company is definitely
attracting much interest. "The key to success with this product is
commercialization and venture capitalism." Dr. Parchamazad says by
beginning this business, investors who contribute funds mounting up to $800,000
to $1 million are assured that the funds go to research and development
rather than to the University.
Bonnie Andranigian, Upland resident, attended a press conference held
at the University of La Verne in February. Interested from the investing
perspective, she says the fuel cell offers a different source of emergency
backup system. "It's great. It has a lot of potential, and there are
unlimited reasons why one should invest in this technology."
The University of La Verne is connected to the project because Dr. Parchamazad
is truly dedicated to the cause. Dr. Parchamazad, a professor at ULV since
1987, recognizes that La Verne is not traditionally well known for its advancements
in applied research.. "My ultimate goal is for ULV to be well known
in this field. With several patents in this technology, this University
does not have to rely on tuition anymore. We can compete with universities
like Stanford. I want to change the image of ULV. We cannot compete in all
fields like Cal Tech in electronics and so forth, but in this field we have
Philip Hawkey, executive vice president of the University, says, "I
am a big fan of Dr. Parchamazad, and he has demonstrated through his tenacity
that he has overcome a lot of skeptics. ULV is not known as a research university.
Not much of this activity has occurred. If we have a professor who really
wants to do research, normally he would work at a research university. We
specialize in teaching, and he has so much energy that he can do both. He
is a good teacher, and he is very busy, so to spend so much time teaching
and supporting students and doing research in addition to that-it is just
an unusual person who can do that."
Dr. Parchamazad served as consultant to the Ministry of Industry in
Iran from 1982-1987 and as a committee member of the chemical and petrochemical
industry of Iran. He was a consultant to the Ministry of Energy from 1981-82
before he joined the staff at the University of La Verne.
Dr. Jones says, "I have worked with Iraj for many years. His vision
is clear and far ahead of the pack. The alliance of CFG and the University
is a natural one." Because Dr. Parchamazad has united CFG and ULV,
there is a great potential for profit and worldwide acclaim. ULV President
Stephen Morgan acknowledges the advances made. "If Professor Parchamazad
is successful with his fuel cell project, there is the potential that the
University of La Verne will be catapulted to new levels of recognition because
of his affiliation as a member of our faculty and because his work has been
pursued on our campus. If we were to share in patents, major breakthroughs
could also provide positive financial impact to the University."
The Mission Statement of the University directly correlates to the efforts
Dr. Parchamazad and his team are putting forth. The end result of the fuel
cell reduces pollution almost entirely, allowing humanity to interact with
the environment in harmony. Faculty and administrators are welcoming its
potential for utilizing natural resources, but it enters an unfamiliar area
involving protecting research through patents and using the University as
a magnet for fund raising. "Because this is the first project of this
magnitude in the history of ULV, we are learning a great deal about the
complexities of such an undertaking. As a result, I think we will be better
prepared to take on future projects. Nothing teaches like experience,"
says Dr. Morgan.
Dr. Jones asks one to imagine eliminating the brown, burning haze we
breathe. He asks one to imagine eliminating the need for petroleum imports.
"Imagine cutting the CO2 contribution from electrical generation to
nearly zero. Can you see the gradual removal of all those costly, unsightly
high tension lines?"
Maybe one can envision spending the California budget surplus on education
instead of buying transmission lines. Dr. Jones is asking people to imagine
a global technology revolution that will simplify the way people live.
Continuing revolutionary developments in fuel cell technology come from
the research of Dr. Iraj Parchamazad, chemistry department chair, and his
team of ULV scientists that includes, (right) Dr. Jay Jones, professor of
biology and biochemistry.