Graduate STEM Fellow Profile

Neil Spinner

Project Title: Ingenuity Incubators Prepare Technical High School Students for College Engineering
Thesis: Development of a Room-Temperature Carbonate Fuel Cell
College/University: University of Connecticut
Research Advisor: William Mustain
Degree Sought: Ph.D., Chemical Engineering
Department: Chemical, Materials, and Biomolecular Engineering
Research Focus: Electrochemistry, materials synthesis, catalyst development
Teaching Partner(s): John Hoyle

Description of Research

Anion exchange membrane fuel cells operating in the carbonate cycle have been demonstrated at temperatures as high as 650°C. Such devices are known as molten carbonate fuel cells. Operation at these elevated temperatures imposes many system constraints, however, as well as safety and stability concerns. I am attempting to engineer electrocatalysts to run a fuel cell on the carbonate cycle at room temperature using carbon dioxide as a fuel source. This device, which will be the first of its kind, will produce electricity with a net negative carbon dioxide generation, and will employ low-cost non-noble metal catalysts.

Example of how my research is integrated into my GK-12 experience

Green energy is a popular and multi-faceted topic these days. Students are exposed to examples of green energy on a nearly daily basis through television, the internet, and even casual, everyday conversation. I bring my knowledge and skills in this area to the classroom where we have been designing and fabricating a fully-functional vertical-axis wind turbine (VAWT). We often spend time discussing how this project fits into the broader scope of alternative energy technology, and the potential opportunities that may exist in the future for development and implementation of these devices. I’ve found that the students really enjoy the chance to work on something fun and innovative like the VAWT, and being exposed to the cutting edge of green energy technology will hopefully serve them well in their future endeavors.