H2: the ultimate chemical building block

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There is little doubt hydrogen is a huge player in energy going forward, but just what will that look like?

Dr. Kathy Ayers, Nel Hydrogen’s Vice President of Research and Development, is working on some of those answers – and working with membranes in an effort to increase the ease of distributing hydrogen using electrolysis.

“Electrolysis is basically taking electricity and using it to split water,” she said. “So, you’re applying a current to two electrodes and, depending on which type of chemistry it is, the cell configuration is a little bit different. But, essentially, you’re splitting water, which is H20, into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen.”

Since that process is completely non-polluting, it’s an exciting option, but one where some work still remains to make sure it’s an efficient and cost-effective solution.

That’s something Ayers and her cohorts are working on via things like a partnership with the Department of Energy and work with colleges and universities helping develop new components like porous transfer layers developed specifically with hydrogen in mind.

If it sounds like a lot, that’s because it is, but Ayers is ready to handle the transition. After earning her Ph. D from Caltech, she spent years in the non-renewable battery sector before a chance encounter while on vacation led to her resume being passed to the company that later would become Nel.

Now, she’s seen as a pioneer for women looking to make more inroads in the hydrogen industry.

“Honestly, (that role) surprises me a little bit, because I was pretty shy as a kid,” she said. “I spent a lot of time getting over a fear of things like public speaking, but I also had strong role models and mentors – both female and male – and I think that’s really important that those of us who have had those opportunities. … It’s really important for all of us to help look for other women who have promise, help mentor them and help guide them through those same obstacles.”

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