Here is how we solve air pollution with clean vehicles

UB awarded $3 million to advance use of hydrogen-fueled semi-trucks

Image with blue tint of Gang Wu standing in lab.

A UB research team is focused on a long-sought goal: to develop a catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells that is efficient, cheap and durable.

Imagine if large gas- and diesel-powered trucks emitted water vapor from their tail pipes rather than carbon dioxide. That is the promise of hydrogen as a source of clean energy.

Gang Wu, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, has worked to fulfill this promise for nearly two decades. He is now one step closer thanks to a $3 million grant from the United States Department of Energy’s Hydrogen Shot, an initiative to advance hydrogen as a fuel source and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“Developing clean energy is the most important thing we can do for the future of human civilization,” says Wu.

The challenge: efficient, cheap and durable

Hydrogen fuel cells create electricity that powers an electric engine. Filling the tank of a hydrogen-fueled car is similar to the process at a gas station: a pump and nozzle system fills the tank in just a few minutes.

Although there are thousands of hydrogen-powered cars on the road, finding a fueling station is difficult due to the high cost to produce hydrogen fuel. The price is high because the fuel cells require platinum—a rare metal—as a catalyst to produce electrical power. 

“The concept of a hydrogen fuel cell is simple. Developing the catalyst that meets the goal — efficient, cheap and durable — is the challenge,” says Wu, whose lab recently created a promising catalyst made of platinum and cobalt.

Under the new grant, Wu will build on that work by investigating the benefits of adding a third element, carbon, to the catalyst. If successful, the new catalyst could help expand infrastructure for a hydrogen fueling system utilized by heavy-duty trucks, a significant contributor of air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions.

Gang Wu.
Project Director:

Gang Wu, Professor, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences