Discovery Center researcher awarded for fuel cell work

Researcher wins state award for fuel cell

By University Communications
April 17, 2012
Kenneth Smith, Discovery Center

Photo: UW-Stout researcher Kenneth Smith and student assistants

Kenneth Smith, an associate with the UW-Stout Discovery Center, has been named the 2012 WiSys Innovation Scholar. The award honors discoveries made by UW System faculty, staff or students that benefit society.

He will be recognized during UW-Stout Research Day, Tuesday, April 24, by WiSys Managing Director Maliyakal John and UW-Stout Provost Julie Furst-Bowe. Smith also presented his work April 13 to the UW System Board of Regents.

Smith has developed a pressure-balanced proton exchange membrane fuel cell, also known as polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell. PEM fuel cells transform the chemical energy liberated during the electrochemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen to electrical energy.

PEM fuel cells are an attractive clean energy option but have been plagued with problems when fuel crosses through the electrolyte from one side of the cell to the other, creating heat and reducing efficiency. Smith created a cell that allows gas flow between the two chambers without intermixing. His design also reduces costs and improves efficiency.

Two teams have supported Smith’s project. One team consists of students Destin Peters, of Lake City, Minn.; Anish Pokhrel, of Nepal; and Rachel Wengelewski, of Franklin. The other team, from Schmit Prototypes of Menomonie, consists of Mark Swanson, Ted Schonebaum and Jayson Nicol.

The technical innovations of the new fuel cell are protected through WiSys, which promotes research and development through resources at the UW System’s 11 comprehensive campuses and helps transfer successful ideas to the private sector, creating jobs and boosting the economy.

WiSys handles marketing, licensing and other issues for all UW System schools except UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee.

The award is sponsored by the intellectual property law firm of Quarles & Brady.

For more on the UW-Stout Discovery Center, go to

Photo: UW-Stout researcher Kenneth Smith, second from right, has received a state award for his work with fuel cells. Student researchers who have assisted him are, from left, Rachel Wengelewski, Anish Pokhrel and Destin Peters.