PEI-STEP Fellow explores paths to clean hydrogen energy

Written by
Morgan Kelly, for the Princeton Environmental Institute
July 27, 2020

Electrical engineering graduate student Paris Blaisdell-Pijuan has been awarded one of three 2020 PEI-STEP Environmental Policy Graduate Fellowships from the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI). The fellowships explore emerging topics in environmental policy such as renewable energy and global health. The other two fellows are Kairui Feng, from civil and environmental engineering, and Jeffrey Lee, from molecular biology.

Their projects will explore topics that include using hydroelectric power to cleanly and efficiently produce hydrogen fuel; the cost and benefits of adapting cities to climate change before versus after disaster strikes; and expanding the development of drugs to combat drug-resistant bacteria and emerging pathogens such as COVID-19.

For 20 years, the PEI-STEP program has provided Princeton doctoral candidates in departments outside of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs with two years of financial support and a $3,500 research award. Recipients explore the environmental policy dimensions and implications of their graduate thesis research through supplementary coursework and policy-oriented research.

Upon completion of the program, the students will graduate with a certificate in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy (STEP). The program has supported more than 50 fellows. A description of Blaisdell-Pijuan's project is below.

PEI-STEP Topic: Assessing Routes to Clean Hydrogen: Meeting the Norwegian Hydrogen Demand with Hydropower

PEI-STEP Adviser: Michael Oppenheimer, Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs and the Princeton Environmental Institute

Thesis Topic: Infrared Catalysis and Hydrogen

Thesis Adviser: Claire Gmachl, Eugene Higgins Professor of Electrical Engineering

Blaisdell-Pijuan hopes to ease the transition to clean hydrogen energy by exploring the use of hydroelectric power as a zero-carbon, energy efficient method for producing hydrogen fuel. Electrolysis — in which electricity is used to separate hydrogen from water — produces hydrogen fuel without carbon emissions, but its use is limited by high costs and energy usage. Blaisdell-Pijuan will study Norway — which derives nearly 100% of its energy from hydropower — to determine the costs and limitations of creating a network of hydrogen plants powered by renewable low-cost hydroelectricity. He will use techno-economic modeling to determine the number of hydroelectric-hydrogen plants needed to meet the projected demand for hydrogen fuel by 2050, and he will identify the most efficient technologies and plant designs for production.

For details on all of the 2020 PEI-STEP projects, read the full story.