DOE Grants Fuel Hydrogen Research at UGA

Researchers from the University of Georgia (UGA) and the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) now have $1.35 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to collaborate on clean energy technologies that incorporate nanostructures for more efficient hydrogen production and storage.

The grants cover two projects based on nanoscale materials. One is for generating a solar cell device to produce hydrogen and one is using nanomaterials to safely store the hydrogen. Both projects are dependent on materials to be designed and fabricated by Yiping Zhao of UGA, a recognized expert in the fabrication of nanostructures, which will then be characterized and tested by Jin Zhang at UCSC. “With the potential to turn water into hydrogen using solar energy and then burn the hydrogen into water as a fuel, we can have an inexhaustible source of clean energy,” said Zhao, principal investigator on the hydrogen storage aspect of the multi-institution project, and assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy at UGA. The grants are among 70 hydrogen research projects funded through a $64 million DOE initiative aimed at making vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells available, practical and affordable to American consumers by 2020. Generating hydrogen from solar energy — using it as a transportation fuel with only clean water as a byproduct — would completely bypass fossil fuels as an energy source. Still, significant technological barriers continue to block this reality. For example, about four kilograms of compressed hydrogen are needed to drive an automobile 300 miles. Zhao is confident that the use of nanostructures as a storage mechanism will reduce the current requirement of a large volume, equal to about a 50-gallon drum, of the volatile element to be stored in a vehicle for use. “Nanostructures are important in hydrogen storage because you have a higher surface area,” said Zhao. “But what really sets this process apart is the nanofabrication techniques — we can design better structures and incorporate more complex materials, which is vital if this technology is to move forward.”