La Verne Magazine
Winter 2000

"Tradition & Change"


Filling Up With Hydrogen

by Jeanette M. Neyman

 

Imagine being in the middle of a large busy city on the United States west coast. The familiar roar of internal combustion engines can be heard all around, but there are almost no toxic emissions coming from all these cars, trucks, buses and planes.

The vision is staggering: a society powered almost entirely by hydrogen -- the most abundant element on earth. When the hydrogen is used as an energy source in a fuel cell, it generates no emissions other than water, which is recycled to make more hydrogen.

A mere fantasy? Perhaps not -- especially if Dr. Iraj Parchamazad, professor of chemistry and chair of the Chemistry Department, has anything to do with it. Making this vision a reality in the 21st century is the goal of researchers led by Dr. Parchamazad at the University of La Verne. A $600,000 private research grant will help the ULV chemistry department explore promising new hydrogen technology for production, storage and utilization as an alternative fuel. Substantial research monetary support has also come from the United States Department of Energy.

"Sooner or later we will find it, but it is like a war where nobody talks about it, because it is so revolutionary," Dr. Parchamazad says. "It will be like electricity was to the beginning of the 19th century."

Presently, Dr. Parchamazad and his team are in the process of applying for patents on their work. Sale of stock for the research enterprise is on the horizon.

"The United States government, including the Department of Defense, Department of Transportation and Department of Energy support this emerging technology so much they consider it an issue of national security," Parchamazad says.

Several countries, including the United States, Canada, Germany and France are putting tremendous resources into developing the technology.

Hydrogen is the chemist's analog to electricity. Like electricity, the hydrogen element does not occur naturally to be used as fuel-it must be generated or produced by consuming fuels or other forms of energy.

These new hydrogen technologies would put nature's most basic element to work as a versatile energy carrier and a clean fuel. However, Dr. Parchamazad points out that one of the greatest obstacles of using hydrogen is safety because it is extremely flammable.

Dan Herrig, a full-time research associate for the project, feels that although the technology is merely in the prototype stage, it has endless possibilities. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to make a name for myself," he says.