Department of Defense awards Auburn University $3.2 million to research air filters for fuel cell systems

AUBURN – The Office of Naval Research in the U.S. Department of Defense has awarded a $3.2 million grant to Auburn University’s Center for Microfibrous Materials Manufacturing to study and develop advanced air filters for fuel cell systems. The center is housed in Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.

Bruce Tatarchuk, the center’s director and a faculty member in the Department of Chemical Engineering, said that the focus of the research is to enable fuel cell systems to better meet the needs and environments of Navy ships. He said contaminants found in the air on these ships, such as soot, smoke and products of diesel combustion, could damage the electrodes that exist inside a fuel cell system.

“Fuel cells are more sensitive to trace levels of common airborne contaminants than human lungs are to nerve gas,” said Tatarchuk, “They require filters with high efficiency to bring contaminants down to undetectable levels.”

To effectively remove airborne contaminants, fuel cell filters must operate efficiently while also allowing air to pass through them with a minimal drop in pressure. Tatarchuk believes this research in fuel cell filtration can also be used to develop improved filters for homes and offices, creating jobs in Alabama, as well as the potential for new technologies and services.

Drawbacks often found with traditional high efficiency filters are their high initial cost and maintenance requirements.

“There are significant electricity costs associated with the power required by HVAC systems to pull air through the filters, whether inside an Alabama home, school or business,” Tatarchuk said.

Enhanced filters can also improve air quality, reducing airborne contaminants that cause allergies and respiratory diseases.

“Better air filtration eliminates the root causes rather than our current focus, which is on treating the symptoms of these respiratory ailments,” Tatarchuk said. “Our goal is to provide a healthier environment and save money at the same time.”

Tatarchuk’s center has also developed remote sensors to monitor these filters and notify users when they should be replaced.

“Condition-based maintenance is a far more efficient strategy than routine maintenance, which invariably changes air filters too early or too late in their life cycle,” Tatarchuk said.

The center, which supports research conducted by the Department of Chemical Engineering, is working with two Alabama business partners, IntraMicron Inc. of Auburn and Quality Filters Inc. of Robertsdale, to conduct the project.

Tatarchuk said that U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner of Mobile is particularly supportive of Auburn’s research in air filtration technologies for the Navy.

“We appreciate his interest in and support of our research,” Tatarchuk said. “In addition to his efforts to reduce costs, Representative Bonner is concerned about air quality for our sailors.”

The Center for Microfibrous Materials Manufacturing was founded at Auburn University in 1996. Researchers are developing micron-sized fibers that can entrap microscopic particles and evaluating their potential for new technologies.

To see a brief video of Tatarchuk speaking on the subject, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehQWnjChEKI&feature=channel_video_title.

(Written by Sally Credille.)

Sally Credille, College of Engineering, (334) 844-3447 (src0007@auburn.edu), or
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)