New faculty named Electrochemical Society and Toyota Young Investigator Fellow


By Ashley J. WennersHerron

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Electrochemical Society (ECS) has named Christopher Arges, who joined the Penn State Department of Chemical Engineering as an associate professor on Aug. 15, as one of five 2021-22 ECS Toyota Young Investigator Fellowship for Projects in Green Energy Technology recipients.

In partnership with the Toyota Research Institute of North America, a division of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc., ECS launched the fellowship program in 2014 to fund research intended to alleviate or solve environmental and energy challenges facing the automotive industry. All recipients must be considered early-career professionals under the age of 45.

Arges, who researches and develops advanced materials for electrochemical processes used in water treatment, energy storage and conversion, proposed a project on how electrode binders affect the performance, efficiency and stability of high-temperature polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (HT-PEMFCs) used in heavy duty electric vehicles, such as trucks, planes and ships. HT-PEMFCs can operate at higher temperatures, simplifying heat and water management that is difficult with low-temperature fuel cells. They also can provide more energy and recharge quicker than batteries.

“These vehicles require larger power plants and fast refueling times, so fuel cells have advantages over battery technology,” said Arges, who also is affiliated with the Center of Integrated Energy Systems in the Institutes of Energy and the Environment at Penn State.

HT-PEMFCs rely on electrode binders, which are often a kind of polymer called ionomers, that act as a glue to hold powders together to form porous electrodes.

“The electrode powders are like sand,” Arges said. “They need an ion-conducting adhesive to hold them together without impeding electron and gas transport.”

One challenge, Arges said, is that it is not clear how the binders interact with electrocatalysts, which typically live on the electrode surface and influence the charge-transfer reactions responsible for generating the electric power in a fuel cell. He plans to investigate these ionomer binder-electrocatalyst interactions to develop high-performing and stable HT-PEMFCs.

“Fuel cells are arguably the best clean energy platform for decarbonizing trucking, aviation and marine shipping transport,” Arges said.

All five of the fellows are pursuing battery and fuel cell research and will have the opportunity to share their work with one another and the sponsors every few months. At the end of the fellowship year, each fellow is invited to submit their work for publication by the society.

“I’m excited to connect with the other fellows — some of us already know each other from ECS and other work,” said Arges, who has been an active member of the society since he joined as a graduate student in 2010. “And it’s always motivating to work with industry, especially on projects that could have direct applications.”

Arges is also affiliated with the Penn State Institutes of Energy and Environment. Arges previously served as the Gordon A. & Mary Cain Professor in the Cain Department of Chemical Engineering at Louisiana State University (LSU). He earned his bachelor of science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, his master of science at North Carolina State University and his doctorate at Illinois Institute of Technology. Prior to joining LSU, Arges completed a postdoctoral fellowship with the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory.

More information on the ECS fellowship, including all of the recipients, may be found on the ECS website.


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Christopher Arges. IMAGE: PENN STATE