November 02, 2005

Faculty member wins grant for hydrogen research

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, ILL -- A national chemical group is providing a Southern Illinois University Carbondale researcher with a grant to expand his work in hydrogen storage techniques.

The American Chemical Society's Petroleum Research Fund awarded the $35,000 grant to Qingfeng Ge, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Ge, whose work focuses on chemical computer modeling, will use the money to support graduate and post-doctoral researchers and purchase additional computing equipment.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Ge a three-year, $600,000 grant. His project is one of 17 DOE-funded studies examining ways to store hydrogen efficiently and safely for on-board vehicle systems.

"The goal is to be able to store enough hydrogen on board to drive like a normal car today – going 100, 200 or 300 miles before refilling," Ge said.

Hydrogen storage methods traditionally rely on compressing and liquefying the gaseous substance. Such methods are not practical in an automobile setting, nor is burning hydrogen as a fuel in a modified internal combustion engine.

Fuel cell technology, however, uses hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity by electrochemical reaction. The federal government's goal is to make hydrogen fuel cell technology workable by 2020. Hydrogen fuel cells are attractive because of the element's abundance and its environmentally friendly byproducts – heat and water.

Although Ge's goal is to find materials to store hydrogen so it can power a fuel cell, the funded research is not directly related to fuel cells.

Lori Vermeulen, chairperson of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, lauded Ge's work.

"This is very competitive and only the top 22 percent of the proposals were funded," she said.

Establishing relationships with granting organizations and promoting the University as a research institution of high quality are among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.