Jacob Kupferberg is currently an undergraduate student studying Mechanical Science & Engineering. He is an intern at the Rutgers Energy Institute for the summer of 2016, working with Professor Manish Chhowalla's research group.
1: Please briefly describe your research. Graphene is a single sheet of graphite that is extremely thin, optically transparent, electrically conductive, highly strong for its weight, and thermally conductive. By adding oxygen to the surface of graphene sheets to make graphene oxide, it can be put into solution in water. This solution can be pumped via syringe into a salt bath to create a fiber. We can remove the oxygen groups using heat, chemicals, and microwaves to produce a graphene fiber with excellent conductivity and catalytic properties. We have used these fibers as the catalysts used in commercial hydrogen fuel cell technologies which typically use expensive platinum catalysts.
2: How did you come to be involved in this research? I was a second year student in the Materials Science and Engineering department. I was eager to engage in materials research and was directed to professor Chhowalla's lab. I thought that the work done in the Nano-Materials and Devices lab was interesting, and the lab had space for undergraduate researchers. I worked under the post-doc Damien Voiry and a visiting undergraduate from China named Xiao Wang on the graphene fibers project. When Xiao returned to China, I took charge of the project.
3: Where do you see your research fitting into our energy future? We are in need of alternative, clean forms of energy. In order to make clean energy a competitive alternative to fossil fuels, it must be able to produce power at a lower cost and marry well with current technologies. Hydrogen fuel cells, similar to a battery or a generator in design, may be able to achieve both of those ends. The major hurdle in commercial fuel cells has been the platinum catalysts used in the cell, which are both expensive and prone to a myriad of issues. Graphene based catalysts can be made at a low cost and are immune to many of the limitations of platinum based catalysts. Integration of graphene catalysts into new fuel cells may make this energy option viable, replacing some fossil fuel sources and spurring further research into fuel cells.