Dr. Hongcai “Joe” Zhou, professor of chemistry at Texas A&M University, has been selected as one of 37 scientists nationwide to share in a total of $106 million in new grants through the United States Department of Energy intended to help reshape the country’s energy future.
The grants, announced April 29 by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, will fund a variety of innovative research initiatives with the power to dramatically improve the way the country uses and produces energy. Funded through DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the $106 million effort will support projects that could produce advanced biofuels more efficiently from renewable electricity instead of sunlight; design completely new types of batteries to make electric vehicles more affordable; and remove the carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants in a more cost-effective way.
The awards are part of an overall $100 billion investment the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is making to create jobs and drive economic growth through innovation, science and technology.
“These projects show that the U.S. can lead the next Industrial Revolution in clean energy technologies, which will help create new jobs and spur innovation and economic growth while helping to cut carbon pollution dramatically,” Secretary Chu said.
Congressman Chet Edwards, who represents Texas A&M and serves on the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, said, “Texas A&M continues to lead the way with innovative research that will help America diversify our domestic energy sources, reduce carbon emissions, and create clean energy jobs right here at home. As one of only 37 projects selected nationwide and the only one in Texas, Texas A&M can utilize this Recovery Act funding to advance vital energy research while making a positive impact on the local economy.”
Zhou, who joined the Texas A&M faculty in 2008, is an expert in the design of metal-organic framework (MOF) materials, considered one of the most promising new classes of “designer” microporous materials to be developed in the past 20 years. His proposal, “Stimuli-Responsive Metal-Organic Frameworks for Energy-Efficient Post-Combustion Carbon Dioxide Capture,” was developed in collaboration with Dr. Hae-Kwon Jeong and Dr. Perla B. Balbuena in the Texas A&M Department of Chemical Engineering.
“This grant is compelling evidence of the strength of fundamental energy research in the College of Science and our desire to collaborate with researchers across campus,” said Dr. H. Joseph Newton, dean of the College of Science.
Zhou’s research focuses on the use of new MOF materials as carbon dioxide sorbents that could be finely controlled to improve their selectivity in absorption of carbon dioxide, thereby reducing the energy required to do so. He and his team believe the technology would greatly reduce carbon emissions in everything from transportation devices to power plants, creating jobs in clean-energy-related companies and factories.
“Dr. Zhou’s research is precisely the type of innovative approach that is essential to solving many of the important energy challenges we face,” said Dr. Jeffrey R. Seemann, vice president for research and graduate studies. “It is an honor for Texas A&M to be recognized with this important grant from our Nobel-prize-winning Secretary of Energy.”
The project was one of 37 selected – the only statewide – from 300 full applications chosen from an original pool of more than 3,600 initial concept papers submitted to the DOE. Zhou is now eligible to have some, or all, of his project funded up to $1,019,974 over a three-year period. Negotiations to determine a cooperative agreement will begin later this summer.
“It definitely feels very motivating to be selected,” Zhou said. “We are very proud, but we also feel very responsible to do excellent work in this area and to really try and make a difference in the world.”
Zhou views the award as a tremendous step forward for his research with carbon dioxide sorbents, which has been further expedited through Texas A&M’s Advanced Research Institute for Sustainable Energy (ARISE), a center dedicated to connecting the fields of technology development, academic research and commercialization in an effort to develop state-of-the-art concepts and materials to facilitate hydrogen production and storage, efficient conversion of biofuels, economic production of solar energy and other renewable energy resources. ARISE is a campus-wide effort involving more than 40 faculty from 16 different departments working together to find the most environmentally benign alternative energy sources.
“The ARISE efforts will benefit greatly from this,” Zhou said. “The ARPA-E has a very ambitious goal to solve renewable energy needs, so it is all very inspiring.”
Dr. David H. Russell, Applied Biosystems/MDS Sciex Professor of Mass Spectrometry in Chemistry at Texas A&M and head of the Department of Chemistry, praised Zhou’s contributions to education and environmental protection.
“His leadership efforts on behalf of the evolving Academic Master Plan, ‘Renewable Energy and Sustainability,’ have been exemplary, as illustrated by his success in obtaining funding for this ARPA-E project,” Russell said. “This achievement is an important milestone in Texas A&M’s efforts to develop interdisciplinary research programs having important societal impact.”
Zhou earned his Ph.D. from Texas A&M in 2000 under legendary 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 and to view a complete list of project selections, visit http://arpa-e.energy.gov/.
About research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world’s leading research institutions, Texas A&M is in the vanguard in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represents an annual investment of more than $582 million, which ranks third nationally for universities without a medical school, and underwrites approximately 3,500 sponsored projects. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world.