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Zhou receives $1.44 million DOE grant for hydrogen storage research


A hydrogen storage research project inspired by the hemoglobin protein has been awarded up to $1.44 million by the Department of Energy (DOE). The project, led by Hongcai Joe Zhou (chemistry and biochemistry), is one of six hydrogen storage research projects recently funded by the DOE as part of President Bush's Hydrogen Fuel Initiative.

On-board vehicular hydrogen storage is considered to be one of the most challenging aspects for the successful transition to a hydrogen economy, because the performance of current hydrogen storage materials and technologies falls far short of vehicle requirements, according to the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).

Zhou's novel approach to the hydrogen storage problem is inspired by oxygen transport proteins such as hemoglobin in our blood cells. The reversible oxygen binding in hemoglobin is analogous to the vehicular hydrogen storage problem in many ways, says Zhou. Among other similarities, both systems switch from taking in to giving out gas molecules by lowering the pressure or raising the temperature and both contain bare metal atoms that are "sticky" to gas molecules.

The new approach will include the design and preparation of large organic molecules with primary anchors supporting a porous structure containing sticky metal atoms and secondary anchors fixing more such atoms, ultimately forming a hemoglobin-like artificial protein. "This new biomimetic material will improve our further understanding of the fundamental physics and chemistry behind the hydrogen adsorption and desorption problem. Eventually, we hope it will help us reach the DOE goals for on-board vehicular hydrogen storage," explains Zhou.

"Increasing hydrogen's efficiency and storage capacity are crucial to its long-term success, and we are eager for this research to help move us toward making hydrogen vehicles with a 300-mile-plus driving range commercially available to consumers," said U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.

Zhou's project, "A Biomimetic Approach to New Adsorptive Carbonaceous Hydrogen Storage Materials" will be funded through 2010. Other organizations funded by the DOE's hydrogen program for 2007-2010 are Argonne National Laboratory (up to $1.88 million), United Technologies Research Center (up to $1.01 million) and University of Hawaii (up to $810,000) for storage research and Sandia National Laboratories (up to $2.0 million) and United Technologies Research Center (up to $1.07 million) for materials safety research.

Zhou received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award and a Research Corporation Cottrell Scholar Award in 2005. He also received Miami's Distinguished Scholar-Young Investigator Award in 2006. In April he received the Air Products and Chemicals Inc. Faculty Excellence Award.


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