News Archives

School of Engineering Colloquium Series

May 11, 2011

The monthly School of Engineering colloquium series is developed for our graduate students, faculty and researchers. Colloquia cover a variety of high impact topics within engineering and computer science from speakers who have made major contributions in their fields and can address their effect on science, technology and society.


Speaker: Hirohisa Tanaka, PhD
Topic: Science to the real world: Automotive catalysts and fuel cells

Date: Thursday, March 22, 2012
9:30 am - 10:30 am
Auditorium, Centennial Engineering Center (CEC Room 1041)

Daihatsu Executive Scientist Hirohisa Tanaka will introduce the world’s first self-regenerative intelligent catalyst and his vision for new generation Zero Emission Vehicles. He will also discuss the philosophy and background of the joint Daihatsu-UNM research.


In just under three years, School of Engineering researchers developed the catalysts needed for the world’s first platinum-free fuel cell for the FC ShoCase, a concept car designed by Daihatsu Motor Corporation. Daihatsu is a member of the "Toyota family" and manufactures small cars almost exclusively for the Japanese domestic market. The car premiered at the 42nd Tokyo Motor Show in December, 2011.

Daihatsu lead scientist Hirohisa Tanaka (at left) had a great vision for the new generation Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV). The fuel for this unusual ZEV is hydrazine hydrate – a water solution of hydrazine that can be safely stored and used as a liquid fuel. As the fuel is oxidized on the anode of the fuel cell, only nitrogen and water is produced, making it a true ZEV.

Prof. Plamen Atanassov heads the research team that developed the anode catalysts for fuel oxidation. The breakthrough fuel cell uses a new type of polymer electrolyte membrane that conducts electricity by exchanging anions (hydroxyls), as opposed to the proton-exchange membranes that are popular today. The membrane allows the use of non-platinum catalysts for both oxidation of fuel on the anode and oxygen reduction on the cathode. The catalyst is stable in an alkaline media and thus can replace platinum catalyst, which dominates in an acidic media. The platinum metal-free fuel cells would be much cheaper to produce than traditional fuel cells that rely on platinum and other expensive materials.

Tanaka's vision crystallized in an unusual industry/university partnership called CAFÉ – Creating Anion-exchange Fuel-cells for Earth. CAFÉ brings together researchers across Japan from academia and government, from private industry and non-profits and it has the participation of Gas Technology Institute (GTI) in Chicago and UNM.