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Gem of the Day 7/16: TAMU Chemist Earns $3 Million Grant

By: Texas A&M University
By: Texas A&M University

COLLEGE STATION, July 12, 2012 – A proposal on novel vehicular natural gas storage led by Texas A&M University chemist Hongcai Joe Zhou is one of 13 selected nationwide to share in a total of $30 million awarded through the United States Department of Energy (DOE) to ignite American natural gas energy research and identify new ways to capitalize on the country's vast related reserves.

The grants, announced today in Houston by U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman at a meeting of the National Petroleum Council (NPC), are part of a new DOE Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program known as Methane Opportunities for Vehicular Energy (MOVE). The program is intended to engineer light-weight, affordable natural gas tanks for vehicles and to develop natural gas compressors that can efficiently fuel a natural gas vehicle at home.

"These innovative projects will leverage the ingenuity of U.S. scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to develop breakthrough technologies to fuel cars with natural gas," Poneman said. "These projects could transform America's energy infrastructure and economy by utilizing domestic energy sources to power our vehicles, reducing our reliance on imported oil and increasing American energy security."

Zhou will receive $3 million in support of his proposal, "Advanced Porous Materials for Vehicular Natural Gas Storage," a collaborative project involving General Motors (GM), Research Triangle Institute (RTI) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) to develop highly porous materials with high natural-gas affinity for use in low-pressure natural gas storage tanks. Zhou, who serves as the project's principal investigator, says these low-cost materials will enable the gas to efficiently adhere to the porous structures engineered by his group, resulting in effective gas storage at unprecedentedly high-energy densities.

"Advanced porous materials, such as metal-organic frameworks and porous-polymer networks, are emerging sorbents whose properties can be fine-tuned to meet the specific needs of an application," Zhou said. "By collaborating with GM, LBNL and RTI, we hope to significantly advance the research, not only in sorbent development, but also in storage-tank design, pushing these exciting new sorbents toward commercialization."

Zhou's project, one of two selected for funding that are located in Texas, represents his second ARPA-E grant in the past two years. In 2010, he received a two-year, $1 million grant to support his research on metal-organic frameworks (MOF), which are porous crystalline polymers made up of metal ions or metal-containing components and organic ligands and considered one of the most promising new classes of "designer" microporous materials to be developed in the past 20 years. Earlier this year, Zhou‘s research resulted in a novel carbon-capture technique -- in essence, a flypaper-like "trap" -- poised to significantly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by power plants across the nation and world.

"As in 2010, this grant once again shows the strength of fundamental energy research in the Department of Chemistry and the College of Science, as well as our desire to collaborate with researchers across campus and the country," said Dr. H. Joseph Newton, dean of the College of Science.

Zhou, who joined the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry faculty in 2008, has served since 2011 as chief scientific advisor for framergy™, a Texas-based startup company that oversees the commercialization of groundbreaking MOF innovations for industrial uses, ensuring that the broader benefits of Zhou's research are realized across the state, nation and world.

"This award will fuel, literally, a pathbreaking innovation developed in Dr. Joe's lab at Texas A&M University -- an innovation that leverages the country's new leadership in natural gas production with a technology designed for maximum safety and efficiency for the citizens of Texas and the nation," said Dr. Jeffrey R. Seemann, Vice President for Research, Texas A&M University and Chief Research Officer, The Texas A&M University System. "This is a clear example of how strategic resource infusions from the federal agencies like ARPA-E can drive cutting-edge research and technologies developed by faculty at Texas A&M -- helping seed and grow ideas that will help America retain its global leadership in research and development and that will enter our classrooms to inspire and prepare the country's next generation of innovators. I wholeheartedly congratulate Dr. Joe on this achievement."
Zhou earned his Ph.D. from Texas A&M in 2000 under legendary Texas A&M inorganic chemist Dr. F. Albert Cotton. Zhou has received many awards recognizing his previous research, including the Research Innovation Award and the Cottrell Scholar Award from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the Miami University Distinguished Scholar-Young Investigator Award, and the 2007 Faculty Excellence Award from Air Products and Chemicals Inc.

To learn more about Zhou's research, visit http://www.chem.tamu.edu/faculty/zhou/.

For more information on the ARPA-E MOVE Program as well as a complete list of project selections, visit http://arpa-e.energy.gov/.


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