Undergrads earn scholarships for research in alternative fuels, renewable energy

PULLMAN, Wash. – Undergraduate research in alternative fuels and renewable energy got a boost thanks to support for four Washington State University students from the DeVlieg Foundation and Weyerhaeuser Company.

Zoey Henson will use a novel method to assess catalytic reactions in solid oxide fuel cells. She and mentor Grant Norton, dean of the Honors College, hope this leads to better reactions, fuel cells and clean energy alternatives.

With mentor Su Ha, Jake Gray aims to improve catalytic reactions without increasing reactor temperatures. In particular, he will apply an electric field to a nickel catalyst during methane reformation, an important process that produces about 95 percent of the world’s hydrogen. The electric field could be supplied using renewable energy sources.

Because heating and cooling are energy-expensive, replacing them with a cheaper, cleaner alternative would remove hurdles to hydrogen fuel cell sustainability.

Felix Nwanne will work with Xiao Zhang at WSU Tri-Cities on biomass conversion to useable fuel and energy.

Gunnar Hoff will work with Su Ha to improve the power density of an enzymatic biofuel cell that uses glucose as fuel. Instead of expensive metals, these biofuel cells can use renewable enzymes as catalysts.

The students, all in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, will present their work at conferences and/or at WSU’s Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (SURCA) in April.

Weyerhaeuser is a partner in the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA). Using a variety of feedstocks from construction waste to forest residues, NARA is working to create a sustainable industry in aviation biofuels and co-products.