Schatz Energy Research Center

SERC Delivers Stack-Outside-the-Box to Smith College

Smith College Receives SOTB
Professor Denise McKay (2nd from left) and her Engineering 390 class with their new SOtB. (Photo credit SERC)

On October 9, SERC shipped its first-ever Stack-Outside-the-Box™ (SOtB™) to Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. This bench-top educational fuel cell system is initially being used by HSU and SERC alumna Denise McKay, now an assistant professor in the Picker Engineering Program at Smith, in her Engineering 390: Photovoltaic and Fuel Cell System Design class. The Picker Engineering Program is the nation’s first and only accredited engineering program for women.

Denise contacted SERC because she was interested in a portable bench-top fuel cell system for laboratory use and demonstration purposes. Naturally she thought of SERC’s Stack-In-a-Box® (SIB®), which she had helped to develop while still at SERC. (For more information about the SIB® see

The Stack-Outside-the-Box™ (Photo credit SERC).

Denise wanted the basic features of the SIB®, such as compactness and portability in a fully contained system, yet with a number of changes that would be more conducive to extended laboratory use. Consultations between SERC engineers and Denise resulted in the SOtB™. This new design has a number of improved features.

• The lack of a case allows the individual components to be located with fewer space constraints and more accessibility. This increases the visibility and manual access of the various components, enabling students to work more efficiently and understand system operation more easily.
• For ease of transportation the SOtB™ system operates on the hydrogen contained in a small lecture bottle, but when ongoing stationary use is expected, there is a port for connecting to a large industrial size K-bottle. This provides a much larger
supply of hydrogen for extended operation.
• An eight-channel data acquisition system allows students to record operating data including cell voltages and stack temperature while varying the operating conditions. This will allow students to perform detailed measurements on the SERC fuel cell stack, or other stacks that Smith may acquire.
• This system has two cooling fans (versus just one in the SIB®), which will allow for extended runtime at high power levels.

According to Denise, her Engineering 390 students were clamoring for her to set up and run the SOtB™ with them as soon as it arrived. When they were finally able to take the system for a test spin, Denise said that the SOtB™ “operated like a champ.”

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