Chemical Engineering MAPLE group member receives national recognition

Making low-cost, high efficiency and lighter batteries and fuel cells -- that's the goal of Vijayasekaran Boovaragavan, an award-winning postdoctoral assistant bringing his experience and expertise to the university's MAPLE laboratory housed in Tennessee Tech University's chemical engineering department.

The MAPLE lab, Modeling Analysis and Process-control Laboratory for Electrochemical systems, welcomed Boovaragavan last year based upon his work on how the performance of electrochemical systems can be improved based on modeling and dynamic optimization techniques. Using these methods, he strives to simulate and analyze power sources, particularly fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries.

His work in the past year earned him the 2007 Oronzio de Nora Industrial Electrochemistry Fellowship, an international award of $25,000 per year that is given to only one candidate and is renewable for two years.

"This prestigious award is an indication of the caliber and relevance of efforts being conducted at the MAPLE lab in the field of modeling, simulation and control of batteries and fuel cells," said Pedro Arce, TTU chemical engineering department chairperson. "It will help tremendously in attracting talented students and postdoctoral researchers to chemical engineering."

Venkat Subramanian, TTU assistant professor of chemical engineering and MAPLE group director said "Dr. Vijay is a significant part of the MAPLE group, and this fellowship is a reflection of the quality of his work."

The current state-of-the-art model simulation requires seconds to minutes to simulate and predict battery behavior, but these models are just too slow, says Subramanian.

"The model should run in real-time, less than 100 milliseconds," said Subramanian. "Working with Dr. Vijay, we've converted the model to run in real-time. The next step is to combine real-time modeling with dynamic optimization to do off-line and on-line control. Dr. Vijay plays an integral role in improving techniques for modeling using dynamic optimization techniques."

Leakages or undesired reactions, as well as unplanned or man-made events, may cause batteries and fuel cells to fail, so it is crucial that models accurately predict how they react.

If the models run in real-time and can be optimized, the MAPLE lab will provide information to create batteries and fuel cells that cost less and take up less space and volume.

The lithium-ion battery is an ideal candidate for satellite applications because of its high energy/power density and operating voltage. A smaller, lighter battery would allow for more effective space applications. A less expensive fuel cell would be a major step toward commercialization and energy savings.

Boovaragavan received his undergraduate and master's degrees in chemical engineering from Annamalai University, and his doctorate from the Central Electrochemical Research Institute. This year's fellowship is his second international recognition; the International Society of Electrochemistry awarded him the 2006 Oronzio de Nora Young Author's Award.

He is the first author of nine peer-reviewed papers and coauthor of two articles, one book chapter and 12 national/international presentations.

"My success and the success of the MAPLE group would not be possible if not for the excellent atmosphere and support provided by the Department of Chemical Engineering," said Boovaragavan. "I acknowledge the CESR staff members for their assistance in project-related documentation and personnel activities that often require immediate and continuing response. I also appreciate the excellent help provided by the College of Engineering and Office of Research."

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