Yu Seung Kim, a Los Alamos National Laboratory materials scientist, was recently honored as Battelle’s Inventor of the Year for Los Alamos. The annual award is given by Battelle to recognize inventors from Battelle and the national laboratories it manages, which in addition to Los Alamos include Brookhaven National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Kim was recognized for innovative research “to design fuel cells with an ion-pair coordinated polymer membrane, which increases the temperature range a fuel cell can reliably function in and increases the power of the vehicles.” Fuel cells are energy-conversion devices that produce electricity by electrochemically combining hydrogen and oxygen from the air; they can be used as part of zero-emission transportation systems.
“Yu Seung is a recognized international authority in the areas of fuel cell and electrolyzer membranes, especially high temperature proton-conducting and hydroxide-conducting alkaline membranes,” said Rod Borup, fuel cell program manager at Los Alamos. “Yu Seung’s progress with high-temperature and alkaline ionomers has directly affected the Department of Energy’s fuel cell R&D roadmap, as these materials inventions are the enabling technology for removing precious metals from polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells and electrolyzers.”
From benchtop to the factory
Kim’s projects include an Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy funded-proposal to develop fuel cells that function above 100 degrees Celsius, and up to 230 degrees Celsius, without using water. That project resulted in fuel cells made of an ion-pair coordinator polymer membrane designed to provide a higher rate of proton conductivity across a wide range of temperatures.
Kim’s fuel cell work was commercialized with support from the DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office (HFTO) “L’Innovator” program, which helped Advent Technologies verify the manufacturability of the technology — licensing five patents — for its high-temperature proton-exchange membrane fuel cells. A first-of-its-kind program spearheaded by HFTO, the L’Innovator program helps speed national laboratory intellectual property to commercialization. This spring Advent opened a factory in Massachusetts to manufacture the fuel cell’s membrane electrode assemblies.
Kim is the author of approximately 200 peer-reviewed papers with more than 20,000 citations. Kim holds 25 patents/patent applications. In 2014, he received tech-to-market special recognition from DOE Assistant Secretary David Danielson for his early work on alkaline membrane electrolyzers.
He joined Los Alamos National Laboratory in 2003 after a postdoctoral fellowship at Virginia Tech. Kim earned a doctoral degree in polymer engineering from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Korea University.