Picture of Dr. John Van Zee


Chemical and Biological Engineering

3010 NERC
 (205) 348-6981
 (205) 348-7558
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  • Ph.D., Chemical Engineering, Texas A&M University, 1984
  • M.S., Chemical Engineering, Texas A&M University, 1982
  • B.S., Chemical Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, 1975


Dr. John Van Zee’s group applies the principles of chemical engineering to electrochemical systems. These applications include corrosion, batteries, fuel cells, and industrial production of chlorine and caustic.

Electrochemical engineering provides a path toward the development of cost-effective sustainable alternative energy systems. These topics include electroplating of alloys for circuit boards and corrosion resistant lightweight materials as well as energy conversion devices such as fuel cells and batteries. Recent projects on concentrated solar power and improving fuel cells are described below to provide an idea of our approach.

Concentrated solar power systems may use inexpensive molten chloride salts at temperatures approaching 900 degrees Celsius. In these systems, the combustion of fossil fuels in the boiler of a Rankine cycle is replaced by a heat exchanger with a solar-heated high temperature molten salt. To design economical systems, it is necessary to understand corrosion behavior of lower-cost tubes and structures used in the heat exchangers and storage tanks. In these aggressive environments with non-specialty materials, corrosion appears to proceed via selective oxidation of Cr at the grain boundary. Models of these phenomena, which include mass transfer, kinetics, thermodynamics, and potential theory, are being developed to describe the corrosion mechanisms. These models of the chromium concentration are time-dependent, two-dimensional and require meshing at the micron level. The goal is corrosion mitigation strategies.

In the search to lower the capital cost for low temperature fuel cells, off-the-shelf polymeric materials may be used for the balance of plant. These materials meet the stress-strain requirements in vehicles, but they may contain leachable species, which contaminate and decrease both performance and fuel cell life. By using in-situ and ex-situ data, the Van Zee group has developed models that predict the voltage loss as a function of the chemistry of the functional groups in the leachates.

Honors and Awards

  • Omega Chi Epsilon (TAMU); Tau Beta Pi
  • Member, Plug Power Scientific Advisory Board, March 2007- December 2008.
  • Research Achievement Award, College of Engineering and Computing, University of South Carolina, 2008
  • Gold Medal of Honor (First Place Paper) , Third European Polymer Electrolyte Fuel Cell Forum, 2005

Areas of Research

Latest Publications

  • “A Scaling Method for Correlating Ex Situ and In Situ Measurements in PEM Fuel Cells and Electrolyzers,” Hyun-Seok Cho, Won-Chul Cho, J.W. Van Zee, and Chang-Hee Kim, Electrochem. Soc165(10), F883-F890 (2018).
  • “Copolymerization of transition metal salen complexes and conversion into metal nanoparticles supported on hierarchically porous carbon monoliths: a one pot synthesis ,” Trupti V Kotbagi, Kevin H.Shaughnessy, Christian LeDoux, Hyun-Seok Cho, , Tay-Agbozo, S, Sefadzi, J.W. Van Zee, M.G. Bakker, Sol-Gel Science And Technology84(2)  258-273 (2017).
  • “Dimensionless Analysis for Predicting Fe-Ni-Cr Alloy Corrosion in Molten Salt Systems for Concentrated Solar Power Systems, Hyun-Seok Cho, J. W. Van Zee, Sirivatch Shimpalee, B.A. Tavakoli, J.W. Weidner,  L. Garcia-Diaz, M.J. Martinez-Rodriguez, L. Olson, J. Gray, Corrosion 72(6), 742-760 (2016).
  • “Current Distribution Mapping for PEMFCs,” V. Liavivat, S. Shimpalee, J.W. Van Zee, H. Xu, and C.K. Mittelsteadt,” Electrochimica Acta , 174, 1253-1260 (2015).
  • “The Contamination Behavior of System Derived Organic Model Compounds on PEMFC Based upon Functional Groups,”Hyun-Seok Cho, Mayukhee Das, Md. S. Opu, M. Ohashi, and  W. Van Zee, J. Electrochem. Soc162(9) F1056-F1067, 2015.