One might not typically expect to meet the pope in Rome, but a Purdue professor had that opportunity on Friday.
John Sheffield, a professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering, met with Pope Francis to discuss the future of hydrogen energy in preventing climate change.
“During the 30-minute private meeting, we all presented our visions of how hydrogen energy can play a key role to the transformation to a sustainable energy future,” Sheffield said in an email.
He is one of the founding associate directors of the International Centre for Hydrogen Energy Technologies, which a part of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Sheffield is also an editor of the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy and is the president of the International Association for Hydrogen Energy.
Hydrogen energy is energy produced primarily through fossil fuels but also through electricity and solar energy, according to an article published by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in 2017.
“Hydrogen and fuel cells offer key solutions for the 21st century, enabling clean, efficient production of power and heat from a range of primary energy sources, such as solar, wind and other renewable energy sources,” Sheffield said.
In December 2019, Sheffield received a notice that a delegation from the International Association for Hydrogen Energy, including Sheffield himself, was being invited to a private audience with Pope Francis to discuss how hydrogen energy can help prevent climate change.
Emma Russo, a freshman in the College of Engineering, said Pope Francis might want to shed some light on climate change.
“A lot of Catholics and Christians have this idea that it’s not happening," Russo said. "Maybe he acknowledges that it is."
It is the responsibility of the Church to take care of all God gave to humanity, which includes the Earth, Patrick Baikauskas, a priest at Saint Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, said.
Following the presentation, Pope Francis asked the delegation to pray for him and to continue to do its work, Sheffield said.
“In my case, that means to continue to help bring innovative and (find) practical solutions to many of the problems we face today," Sheffield said, " (such as) more efficient fuel cells for automobiles, improving energy efficiency for manufacturers, and (helping) promote the integration of renewable energy with hydrogen fuel cells as back-up electricity supply across the globe.”
Sheffield was granted the final remarks of the meeting, he said. Sheffield paraphrased Neil Armstrong’s famous first words said upon first stepping foot on the moon. This was in order to note the significance of the meeting.
“One small step for hydrogen energy,” Sheffield said. “One giant leap for humanity.”