ECS Podcast – Subhash C. Singhal of PNNL

This week we’re sitting down with Subhash C. Singhal of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), a world leader in the study of solid oxide fuel cells and one of the lead organizer of our upcoming Glasgow conference. Listen as we explore the culture of national laboratories and industry, the future of solid oxide fuel cells, Singhal’s upbringing in India, and more!

Listen below and download this episode and others for free though the iTunes Store (search “ECS Podcast”), SoundCloud, or our RSS Feed.

Five Questions with Subhash C. Singhal
“Science has been in my bones from a very early age.”

What are your thoughts on the progress and challenges for the effective use of clean energy?
I believe a lot of progress has been made in developing renewable electricity sources; solar power, wind power, and even ocean thermal—and of course the fuel cells. Efficiencies are increasing for both solar cells and fuel cells, but the biggest challenge remains their cost. The percent of electricity produce by solar, wind, and fuel cells will increase with time, but only—in my opinion—incrementally. Mainly because the infrastructure we already have utilizes fossil fuels.

What’s happening with solid oxide fuel cells?
Much of the research in the past three decades has been on increasing efficiency and reducing cost for better and cheaper materials, cheaper fabrication methods, and also on building practical power systems. Solid oxide fuel cells are very fuel flexible in contrast to other kinds of fuel cells, like alkaline fuel cells. Solid oxide fuel cells can use a variety of fuel: natural gas, coal gas, and even liquid fuels like diesel and gasoline. Solid oxide fuel cells are really, really flexible. They have very high efficiency because they operate at high temperatures. A lot of attention in the past few years has focused on the high temperature fuel cells.

Is the field of solid oxide fuels cells a promising field for students?
Yes. You know, when I started my first job at Siemens, there were no universities doing research in fuel cells. Now there are fuel cell courses being taught in universities and there is academic research worldwide devoted to fuel cells. The field of fuel cells is very interdisciplinary. It involves chemistry—particularly electrochemistry—physics, and several branches of engineering. It’s an exciting area. There’s a lot of room for invention and innovation. Once they graduate in any of these fields related to fuel cells, they can go into academia or industry. I think it’s a very good field for students to get involved in today.

Who have been some of your mentors during the educational phase of your career?
My Ph.D. advisor Wayne Worrell was a tremendous influence on me—not only professionally, but also as a friend. He was also instrumental in my joining and becoming active in The Electrochemical Society in the mid-1970s. Another person who I admired was Professor Bruce Wagner. Both Wayne and Bruce were not only at the top of their fields, but they were true gentlemen.

How has your transition from working at Siemens to Pacific Northwest National Laboratory been?
It’s very different to work in industry than the national labs. The culture is really different. In industry—like Siemens—everyone is really focused and accountable for achieving their assigned tasks and developing a product for the company. There we didn’t do research for the sake of research. In the national labs, however, there’s much more freedom to explore your own ideas and to do different types of research. That’s what makes it quite exciting to work in a national lab.

Singhal is the lead organizer for solid oxide fuel cells at the upcoming ECS Conference on Electrochemical Energy Conversion & Storage with SOFC-XIV.

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  1. Atanu Dutta

    April 21, 2015 at 10:35 pm

    This is an excellent opportunity to listen to Dr. Singhal. I met him in Japan once and had a discussion on SOFC.

    I request ECS to initiate broadcasting like this for all the plenary lectures in ECS conferences around the world. There are many people who are unable to attend any of these conferences. So, for them this will be good opportunity to at least listen to what experts are telling on the emerging fields. And it will be also nice to accept few quarries from this forum and answer may be posted by the speaker later on on pertinent questions.
    I would also like to know what is the activity going on in India on behalf of ECS. I am member of ECS for more than 10 years but has no knowledge on any ECS activity in India. In fact I am very much interested to promote ECS here in India and there is lot of scope. Can you please put forward this to right platform to address this issue?
    I will wait for positive reply.
    Atanu Dutta

    Dr. Atanu Dutta Professor Department of Physics School of Advanced Sciences VIT University, Chennai Vandalur-Kelambakkam Road Chennai 600127 Phone: Direct: 3993 1049 Mobile: 9159709416

    1. Rob Gerth

      April 22, 2015 at 9:06 am

      Thanks for your kind feedback, Dr. Dutta. We are planning to include more plenary speakers going forward. John Turner, who is speaking in Chicago this May, has also been a guest. It’s a good idea to be able to take questions. For lack of a formal way for now, if they were left here, we could get them to a guest. As far as getting involved in India, someone will be in touch with you. For anyone else, if you are looking to do more with ECS, a good place to start is with our sections to find active ECS members near you. Never be afraid to contact the home office in the US directly via email or phone: 609-737-1902.

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