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UT professor's brush with death inspires energy storage invention

A professor at The University of Toledo nearly died as a teen in Africa because of a hospital's lack of power, but now her invention could mean that never has to happen again.
(Source: WTOL)

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - A professor at The University of Toledo nearly died as a teen in Africa because of a hospital's lack of power.

Dr. Ngalula "Sandrine" Mubenga , professor of electrical engineering technology at The University of Toledo, has invented an energy storage solution that lasts longer and costs less.

The importance of consistent electricity is not lost on Mubenga. When she was 17 years old, her appendix burst in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and she waited three days for surgery due to the fact that not just the hospital, but the entire town was without electricity and running water.

Her father went door to door desperate for help.

Eventually, the hospital found fuel to power the generator, doctors performed the surgery, and Sandrine survived.

With Mubenga's new invention, hospitals around the world may never have to face this kind of problem again.

Dr. T Michael Toole, Dean of the College of Engineering at The University of Toledo, couldn't be more optimistic about the project.

"We're so excited to have Sandrine. She's our newest faculty member, joined us in January, but we knew her quite well because she did all three degrees here. She brings a lot of energy, a lot of ideas, and as you heard about it, a tremendous research project and very exciting opportunity for showcasing UT, but more important, making a real difference worldwide," said Dr. Toole.

Right now, battery makers and automotive manufacturers have to balance batteries using either a passive circuit, which loses energy, much like when a cell phone gets too old and can't hold a charge, or an active circuit, that costs 10 times as much, and isn't used much because of the cost.

The new technology, called a bilevel equalizer, is the first hybrid that combines the high performance of an active equalizer with the low cost of the passive equalizer.

In turn, energy output is increased by over thirty percent by bringing together the best of both worlds.

Dr. Mubenga explained the significance of the bilevel equalizer here in our community,

"When I was doing my masters, I transformed an electric vehicle into a hybrid so that it could run on hydrogen. I integrated a fuel cell to it so it could run off hydrogen. So you have that nice history in the Toledo area. And I think personally, it's really neat that the bilevel is born here and it could be a great learning experience for the students we have here at the university," said Dr. Mubenga.

Sandrine also hopes that this product will be licensed by a local manufacturer as soon as this summer to be able to perform field tests.

She hopes that, down the line, jobs will be created in Toledo.