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Student Team Wins Award for New Water Splitting Energy Storage Device

29 Apr 2021

South Dakota Mines students Kirstie Gildemeister and Kelsey Fitzgerald have won a Braun Student Inventor Award for developing a more efficient and robust system to split water into oxygen and hydrogen gas. Their invention increases effectiveness of solar powered hydrogen fuel cells which can be used to store energy needed during peak demand.

Their company Hydrolyst LLC and the product they have invented, have the potential to greatly improve the effort to store and save energy generated by solar and wind power.  

“We’re essentially splitting the water molecule, in a process called electrolysis that’s been around for years, but currently commercially available products are somewhat fragile and not all that reliable,” says Fitzgerald who serves as company CTO. “We have developed a much more robust and mechanically sound system that generates hydrogen from solar power,” Gildemeister, company CEO, adds. 

The invention could be revolutionary when it comes to the effort to improve the storage capacity and use of clean energy. The device is part of a system that utilizes a solar array to power the water-splitting reaction, the hydrogen that is produced can be used as clean fuel for generators or electric vehicles. The system could also be used in conjunction with a battery bank tied to a solar or wind farm to diversify energy storage options. 

The Braun Student Inventor Award includes $5,000 in cash and a free patent application from Goodhue, Coleman & Owens, P.C. The award was established to recognize a South Dakota Mines student who has made a significant discovery or invention while enrolled.

Gildemeister and Fitzgerald believe the system they have developed could be very beneficial for the Department of Defense working in remote areas to produce their own fuel on site. “The great thing is this system is scalable, it can be used for everything from a small farm to power a whole city,” says Fitzgerald, who came up with the original idea while working on an off-grid farm in Kentucky. 

Both Gildemeister and Fitzgerald are completing their master’s degrees in materials engineering at Mines. The two left jobs in industry to pursue this business. “The success of our company is our end goal, and we will be working hard to see it through,” says Gildemeister. The two are building a prototype on a small farm near Ellsworth Air Force Base that includes a solar array and hydrogen generation system which will showcase the technology.   

South Dakota Mines |