Fuel cells make it possible to produce clean energy from fuels such as hydrogen. But among the materials composing these batteries is carbon from an expensive and polluting source: petroleum.
Would it be possible to use green carbon instead, while improving the performance of fuel cells? This is the project that Professor Samaneh Shahgaldi of the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières (UQTR) intends to carry out. The researcher has obtained a Canada Research Chair whose work will be devoted to the development of carbon nanofibers from lignin – a by-product of the pulp and paper industry – to arrive at the development of batteries. more sustainable, affordable and environmentally friendly fuels.
“Lignin is a component of plants from which carbon nanofibers are already produced. But what makes our research program so original is that we want to modify these nanofibers so that they can be used in fuel cells and that they increase their efficiency. Lignin-based carbon materials demonstrate high potential to replace conventional carbon. In addition, lignin is a renewable, accessible and inexpensive source of carbon. It also makes it possible to use entirely green manufacturing processes, without harmful emissions, ”explains Professor Shahgaldi, whose work will be funded to the tune of $ 600,000 (spread over five years) by the Natural Sciences Research Council. and Engineering (NSERC) of Canada.
After three decades of research by scientists, fuel cells have reached the early stage of commercialization. But challenges persist in reducing production costs and improving durability and performance. “Our new chair therefore finds all its relevance here,” adds the researcher. In addition, fuel cells can be very useful in a sector such as transport, which is particularly polluting. By developing better batteries from lignin, we will be able to use more hydrogen as a transport fuel and better protect the environment. ”
Benefits for industry
Samaneh Shahgaldi will obtain the raw material necessary for his research – lignin – from Quebec paper mills. The latter will greatly benefit from the advances made by the Canada Research Chair (CRC) on lignin-based fuel cells , since they will find an interesting outlet for their industrial residues.
Professor Shahgaldi’s team will also carry out its work in collaboration with companies linked to fuel cells, which will make it possible to align research with market requirements. As carbon fibers have a wide range of applications, the results obtained by the Chair will also be useful in other industries such as aerospace, automotive and sports equipment.
Train a skilled workforce
The new Canada Research Chair awarded to UQTR will allow the training of many students in fields ranging from chemistry to nanomaterials, including engineering. By working in connection with industry, especially for validation tests, these students will also gain valuable practical experience.
“With the recent launch of the Canadian Hydrogen Strategy, we anticipate rapid developments in this sector in the next few years, as well as in the fuel cell sector,” notes Samaneh Shahgaldi. The need for specialized labor will increase in these industries. We must therefore train students now to meet this demand and our Canada Research Chair will make an important contribution to this. ”
Combine disciplines to open up new avenues
Due to the nature of its work, the CRC on Lignin-Based Fuel Cells will be an integral part of UQTR’s Institute for Innovations in Ecomaterials, Eco-products and Energy ( I2E3 ) based on biomass. She will also participate in the activities of the Hydrogen Research Institute ( IRH ) at UQTR. “The multidisciplinary nature of our research will serve as a link between these two institutes”, specifies the researcher.
“We warmly congratulate Professor Shahgaldi on obtaining this prestigious Canada Research Chair,” commented Christian Blanchette, Rector of UQTR. This grant is perfectly in line with one of the research orientations favored by our establishment, namely that related to the environment and energy transition. This new chair will also promote collaboration between researchers from various disciplines, another priority of our university. It will help strengthen UQTR’s position even on the international scene in the fields of biomass-based products and green energies. It will also allow extremely profitable technology transfer to industry, while providing the latter with a high-quality workforce. In an even more global way, the work carried out by Professor Shahgaldi’s team will benefit our planet as a whole, by offering concrete solutions to global warming and the degradation of our environment. ”
An exceptional researcher
Originally from Iran, Samaneh Shahgaldi holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the Fuel Cell Institute, National University of Malaysia. She has ten years of experience in research on catalysts and nanomaterials, particularly in the fields of hydrogen storage and fuel cells.
With a unique interdisciplinary expertise, she has already made fundamental contributions to the chemical and mechanical engineering sectors, particularly for the use of lignocellulosic materials in fuel cells. Participating in the development of new generations of fuel cells, more robust and efficient, it has produced numerous scientific publications. It has also developed fruitful partnerships with other researchers and industry.
Recently hired as a professor in the Department of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Physics at UQTR, Samaneh Shahgaldi previously worked at the Energy Research Center of the University of Waterloo (Ontario) as well as within the company Hydrogenics. She also completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the UQTR Hydrogen Research Institute, during which she twice won a Hydro-Québec award for the quality of her work.