S-C grad Taylor draws attention for energy work

March 4, 2013

André Taylor is working on ways to lower energy’s costs and impacts on the planet while increasing opportunities to convert fuel sources into electricity.

Taylor, a 1991 Smith-Cotton High School graduate, is assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering at the Yale University School of Engineering and Applied Science. He also is a member of the inaugural class of Smith-Cotton’s Academic Hall of Fame, which will be inducted May 13.

Taylor and his team have been busy over the past year on a collection of projects aimed at creating better, lower-cost renewable energy.

“We’ve been hustling,” he said in a telephone interview.

Taylor is expanding on his doctoral thesis work on micro fuel cells. He said while a battery is an energy source device, a fuel cell is an energy conversion device.

“The main difference is with a fuel cell, as long as you are providing fuel, you can generate electricity via electro-chemical reaction,” he said.

The goal is to lengthen the amount of time consumer devices such as mobile phones and tablet computers can be portably powered.

“Instead of running your cell phone for eight to 10 hours with a battery, you can run it 120 hours on a fuel cell,” he said.

He also is collaborating with a group on using bulk metallic glass (BMGs) — metal alloys that can be formed into different shapes and sizes — to create fuel cells. BMGs can be molded more easily than conventional metals but when cooled still carry the strength and hardness desired.

“There are a lot of interesting things you can do with these,” Taylor said.

Another project involves using new materials in solar applications. One of the conventional materials used in solar panels is indium tin oxide; however, indium is growing more expensive because it also is used to manufacture flat-screen computer monitors and televisions. Taylor’s group looked into ways to get around the increasing cost.

“We need a material that is thin enough for light to get through but thick enough to be conductive,” he said.

Photo cells typically use two different types of silicon; Taylor’s group had success replacing one type with a carbon nanotube layer. Eventually they want to get rid of the silicon completely and go to an all-carbon format, because not only is carbon nanotube less expensive, it also is more flexible and less prone to breaking in uses such as large flat screens.

“If you can have a thin film that is light, that is flexible, then that is attractive all the way around so long as you keep the costs low,” Taylor said.

Energy is a major global issue, Taylor said, and his research group hopes to make positive contributions in that area.

“The problem is, we are at a tipping point,” he said. “People can see over the years that something has drastically happened to our weather that we haven’t observed in our lifetimes. Part of that is because of the climate change that is coming about. We have to find ways to develop renewable energy, and that is going to be a major thing.”

He said despite frequent cries about shortages, there are still abundant supplies of oil, coal and natural gas. But he contends there needs to be greater emphasis on renewable energy sources, not just because of their lower impact on the environment, but also to help lower costs and expand applications.

“There has to be some sort of initiative where people invest (in renewable energy) so we can make some improvements,” he said, citing the federal government’s continued subsidies for fossil fuel companies.

Taylor was proud to be nominated for S-C’s Academic Hall of Fame, let alone be a member of the inaugural induction class, which also includes Dr. Alan Braverman, Diane Cordry Golden and Dr. William Woolery.

“I’m pretty excited, pretty honored,” he said. “There is a long history of people they had to choose from.”