Sanjeev Mukerjee, professor of chemistry and chemical biology
In the quest for a better alternative to the internal combustion engine engine, Mukerjee and his team are solving the primary stumbling block to a practical fuel-cell system that converts hydrogen to energy: cost. Because fuel cells use platinum as a catalyst, the technology would cost an unsustainable $5,000 per kilowatt.
The team is experimenting with materials like iron and cobalt polymer composites that would reduce the energy price tag a thousandfold.
But electric vehicles also need an energy-storage system—and Mukerjee’s team is working on a cheaper, more efficient substitute for lithium-ion batteries. Their patented lithium air battery uses oxygen in the air for its oxygen-reduction reaction. Lithium-ion batteries require a more expensive metal-oxide electrode and need more frequent recharging.
Coupled with inexpensive fuel cells, this novel super-battery technology would power a fully electric car capable of driving all the way from San Diego to San Francisco on a single charge.