Paran Sarma and Daivik Mehta are two PhD students from India immersed in fuel cell research and study at Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus.

SFU students aim to bring green technology to Big Oil

Paran Sarma and Daivik Mehta are the first to participate in a joint PhD program between the university and Indian Oil Corporation.

Two PhD students from India immersed in fuel cell research and study at Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus hope to advance clean technology development when they return home to India later this spring.

Paran Sarma and Daivik Mehta are the first to participate in a joint PhD program created through a partnership between SFU and Indian Oil Corporation (IOC). They will head back home in May to continue their research programs, and will return to SFU in about three years to defend their theses and receive their doctoral degrees.

The two were chosen from more than 100 applicants and arrived at SFU last May. Under the arrangement, Indian Oil provides a fellowship towards the SFU PhD program, allowing Indian citizens to spend one year at SFU and a further three years in Indian Oil’s research and development centre. SFU provides a stipend and tuition award during the year at SFU.

The program aims to broaden the students’ research perspectives by exposing them to expertise, techniques and technologies, while enriching the research capacity of both partners and stimulating innovation. The program received more than 140 applications for its second round, which begins in May.

Over the past year, the two students have been based at SFU’s School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering fuel cell research lab, where professor Erik Kjeang supervises their research into the effects of various contaminants and degradation on fuel cells’ performance.

“These students have the potential to become future leaders in India’s emerging clean energy sector, and help pave the way for implementing zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in major cities,” says Kjeang.

The two students hope to help set up a fuel cell research lab at IOC. Ultimately they want to more create reliable and affordable fuel cells that can be commercialized.

“India is a major consumer of fossil fuels and with climate action in the driver’s seat, green technology has become the need of the hour,” says Sarma, who is training to assemble fuel cells and run fuel-cell test stations. “Our aim is to find cost-effective and environmentally friendly ways to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels.”

Mehta is developing mathematical models to predict fuel cell performance under various operating conditions.

“This work will help to gain an understanding of poisoning mechanisms of fuel cells in a better way, and thereby help in developing effective mitigation strategies to enhance the fuel cell performance,” he says.

Sarah Dench, director of SFU International, says it is gratifying to see the progress of the first two students in the program.

“Their work with Dr. Kjeang is helping to forge deeper research connections between SFU and Indian Oil, and ensuring the reciprocal nature of the relationship. It’s a stellar example of the approach we articulated in the SFU International engagement strategy.”


• SFU and Indian Oil Corporation signed a Memorandum of Agreement in October 2014 to partner on hydrogen and fuel cell research, with a focus on clean energy technology and advanced materials.

• An earlier Memorandum of Understanding (May 2014) laid the groundwork for a PhD Mobility Agreement to establish post-graduate training for Indian students.

• The collaboration will promote further exchanges for SFU faculty and students, including potential student co-op placements in IOC’s world-class research and development facility.

• SFU is a leader in fuel cell research, heading a national network for fuel cell innovation and participating in projects with world-class companies such as Ballard Power Systems.

• SFU has myriad partnerships with India, and in 2014 also joined Ryerson University, Ryerson Futures Inc. and the Bombay Stock Exchange Institute to develop and launch Zone Startups India, an international tech business incubator and accelerator program.. It aims to accelerate research and development in both countries while training entrepreneurs and developing startups for local and international markets.


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