With increased atten­tion to over­re­liance on fossil fuels, a new part­ner­ship between North­eastern Uni­ver­sity and a fuel-​​cell devel­op­ment com­pany promises to fur­ther the university’s trans­la­tional research efforts in devel­oping novel renewable-​​energy products.

The campus-​​based North­eastern Center for Renew­able Energy Tech­nology (NUCRET), headed by fuel-​​cell expert and pro­fessor San­jeev Mukerjee,is part­ner­ing­with Indiana-​​based fuel-​​cell devel­op­ment com­pany NuVant Sys­tems, Inc., chaired by North­eastern chem­istry pro­fessor and renewable-​​energy entre­pre­neur Eugene Smotkin, announced Graham Jones, chair of chem­istry and chem­istry biology.

This is an ideal part­ner­ship, and very exciting for North­eastern Uni­ver­sity,” Jones said. “This ven­ture will help fur­ther our efforts to move basic research ideas out to the marketplace.”

NUCRET researches ways to develop renew­able energy. NuVant, with patented prod­ucts designed to enhance and cus­tomize the per­for­mance of fuel cells, is the per­fect­training ground forNorth­eastern stu­dents and incu­bator for researchers tode­velop ideas,said Jones.

It’s an ideal envi­ron­ment for training our stu­dents,” Jones added. “It’s prac­tical. This com­pany develops prod­ucts and does research that our stu­dents can learn from. This is work that com­bines both chem­istry and engineering.”

Smotkin joined North­eastern in 2006 as a chem­istry and chem­ical biology pro­fessor. Com­mitted to the even­tual wide­spread use of fuel cells — devices that pro­duce energy through chem­ical reac­tions — he believes sup­plies of fossil fuels could run out within a few hun­dred years.

If you graph fossil fuel con­sump­tion over a 5,000-year time­line across a dollar bill, and place the start of fossil fuel con­sump­tion in the middle of the bill,” explains Smotkin, “the period where fossil fuels were dis­cov­ered and depleted would be a mere blip—just ¼ inch wide.”

Smotkin is cer­tain that hun­dreds of years from now, his­to­rians will look back on a span of 200 years, and puzzle over why mankind flashed away pre­cious resources it had taken nature mil­lions of years to deliver.

The urgency to create renew­able energy is so great that we need a Man­hattan Project-​​level of effort today,” Smotkin says, refer­ring to the effort that led to the first atomic bomb. “We need to con­vince people that we can solve the problem, and we need to break down bar­riers, across depart­ments and dis­ci­plines, to work col­lab­o­ra­tively on renew­able energy.”

To build new avenues for North­eastern stu­dents inter­ested in fuel-​​cell research, Smotkin has cre­ated six-​​month co-​​op posi­tions (paid expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­ni­ties in the work­place) at NuVant. Addi­tional research oppor­tu­ni­ties may be pos­sible in the future at another of his ven­tures, the Puerto Rico-​​based Tech­nology and Edu­ca­tion Center for Renew­able Energy.

In cre­ating new oppor­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents, Jones and Smotkin hope to create an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research effort, which includes mechan­ical and elec­trical engi­neering, as well as chem­istry. Jones is hopeful that two-​​way traffic between North­eastern and Puerto Rico will help both groups of stu­dents gain addi­tional lab­o­ra­tory experience,

Said Jones, “I think this is great news for North­eastern. Here we have an entre­pre­neur in renew­able energy who can help us move our ideas from the research lab­o­ra­to­ries into the marketplace.”