Queen's University

Water treatment research sparks fuel cell innovation

Julia van Drunen’s application of her water treatment research to fuel cell technology earned her a rare summer fellowship with the Electrochemical Society.

Julia van Drunen (Physical Chemistry, PhD ’13) recently received one of five summer fellowships from the international Electrochemical Society for her research in the fields of water treatment and fuel cell technology.

Ms van Drunen began her graduate studies testing a nickel-based catalyst design for water treatment. The catalyst looks like a three-dimensional chain-linked fence, giving it a high surface area ideal for creating a large number of electrochemical reactions in a small space. When used in water treatment facilities, it could efficiently break down organic molecules that typically don’t degrade in natural environments.

Then she started thinking about applying the catalyst to fuel cell technology.

“One of the main goals of fuel cell research is to use less platinum, which is expensive, while maintaining performance. The process I’m looking at involves attaching small amounts of platinum onto a nickel catalyst. If we can make the platinum stick to the nickel, the same reactions can occur more efficiently,” says Ms van Drunen, a physical chemistry doctoral student supervised by Dr. Gregory Jerkiewicz.

By adding small amounts of platinum onto her nickel catalyst, it could serve as an economical catalyst in alcohol fuel cells. It may even produce as much energy as a catalyst made entirely out of platinum. The fellowship will support her work over the summer to see how productive the two metals are together.

In addition to acknowledging the support and guidance she receives from her supervisor, Ms van Drunen gives some of the credit for her award to Teko Napporn from the Electrocatalysis Laboratory at the Université de Poitiers, France. She studied under Dr. Napporn on exchange in 2010 and 2011.

She hopes that her research will have a positive impact on the future of Sudbury, Ontario, the mining town where she grew up and where her father owns a company involved in environmentally-friendly industry practices.

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Last updated at 4:55 pm EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
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