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Toward energy independence

Published: June 24th, 2008

Category: Spotlights

Eric Wachsman

Eric Wachsman

Professor of Materials Science and Engineering
College of Engineering

When it comes to energy, Eric Wachsman is no fan of the status quo.

“Our dependence on foreign oil means we’re financing countries that support the very terrorist organizations we’re fighting,” he says. “We have to be become more energy independent. We also need to address the imminent threat of global warming by improving the efficiency of our energy utilization now.”

Wachsman aims to help to make that happen. A professor of materials science and engineering, he is a nationally recognized expert in fuel cells, the futuristic power plants viewed as one of the technologies that could eventually replace the internal combustion engine. He also directs the UF-U.S. Department of Energy High Temperature Electrochemistry Center, which is aimed at developing fuel cells that can run on a wide variety of energy sources, from natural gas and gasoline to ethanol and other environmentally friendly biofuels. A prolific researcher who earned his doctorate at Stanford, he has 110 publications and oversees more than two dozen graduate students.

But Wachsman’s interests extend well beyond his lab. With Lonnie Ingram, a professor of microbiology and cell science, he also recently became co-director of the Florida Institute for Sustainable Energy Energy Technology Incubator, one of two UF Centers of Excellence approved by the Florida Board of Governors late last year.

With a $4.5 million state grant, the FISE-Energy Technology Incubator is intended to help UF scientist and engineers “scale up” energy-related technologies, such as fuel cells and solar cells, to prove their capabilities.

The center will also serve as home to the UF biofuels pilot plant aimed at testing ethanol-producing technology developed by Ingram.

“Our goal is to take research results in the laboratory and bring them to the prototype or proof of concept level,” Wachsman says. “That’s what we need to get industry interested in commercializing this research, so that these clean efficient technologies can have a real impact on our use of energy.”

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