ARCHIVED - Dr. Eliezer Gileadi Awarded the Herzberg Prize and Fellowship

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March 04, 2004— Ottawa, Ontario

Questions & Answers

NRC: In your acceptance speech for the 2003 Olin Paladium award, you stressed the need for scientists to challenge assumptions and remain "alert and critical". Can you elaborate more on this point and the kind of impact it has had on your work?

Dr. Eliezer Gileadi
Dr. Eliezer Gileadi

EG: I like to use the following motto: in order to create, one must first question the accepted wisdom. This is the idea I have been practicing all my years in research and teaching. One must respect what others have done and learn it carefully, while keeping an open mind to the possibility that errors may have been made and important points may have been overlooked. This is my short recipe for progress.

NRC: You have been active in fuel cell-related research since the 1960s and likely have a unique view of the sector. Can you share some of your thoughts about the prospects for fuel cell technology?

EG: Fuel cells are probably one of the most promising new technologies, but the promise is still some distance from fulfillment. Serious research in fuel cells, which started around 1959, and has been going on with variable intensity ever since, has not yet led to a product suitable for its most lucrative market – the electric car. Significant advances have been made and some of the industrial R&D did lead to related products. For example, new understanding of the theory and practice of gas-diffusion porous electrodes needed in fuel cells led to significant improvements in electrodes used in different batteries.

NRC: In your opinion, what are some of the key technical challenges facing the industry or areas requiring improvements?

EG: The best fuel is hydrogen, nobody will deny that. But the inherent problems associated with storing and transporting this fuel may be insurmountable. The next best fuel is methanol. This is a liquid, which can be readily stored and transported, using the existing infra structure for gasoline. But its activity in fuel cells is much less than that of hydrogen and this is where the challenges lie. So:

  • Better and cheaper catalysts must be found.
  • Membranes that can retain water at elevated temperatures (150-200°C) will have to be developed.
  • Issues of water management on both sides of the membrane, heat transfer, and in-situ reactivation of the catalysts will have to be addressed.

Overall, several scientific breakthroughs in catalysis, membrane technology and other aspects of fuel cells need to occur before fuel cells can really hit the consumer market.

NRC: Fuel cells are often described as systems that bring together a broad number of technologies to create a product. What kinds of applications do you foresee for these technologies outside of immediate uses in fuel cell systems?

EG: Fuel cell development is indeed an interdisciplinary subject, requiring input from many areas, starting from the theory of catalysis, through electrochemistry, corrosion, materials science, and all the way to heat transfer and hydrodynamics. It is difficult to guess what might be the spin-offs resulting from extensive development efforts in fuel cell. There is no doubt, however, that there will be many new technologies that will be traced back to fuel cell development.

NRC: Did you have any collaboration with NRC in the past?

EG: I have been visiting NRC-ICPET since 1993 almost every summer. Visits have involved providing advice and guidance on a wide variety of research projects at the institute. For example, I have been involved with the development of a new ATR-FTIR spectroscopy system which is much more sensitive and versatile than those presently in use. Other projects have involved the search for improved and less expensive catalysts for low-temperature PEM fuel cell systems, including direct methanol i.e. DMFC. I hope that this collaboration will continue beyond 2004, when my Herzberg Fellowship will end.

ATR-FTIR: Attenuated total reflectance – Fourier transform infrared
PEM: proton exchange membrane
DMFC: direct methanol fuel cell

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