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COLLEGE STATION --

For the third time in the past five years, Texas A&M University chemist Hongcai Joe Zhou finds himself among a handful of elite scientists across the country whose proposed ideas for novel energy solutions and storage systems have been rewarded with critical United States Department of Energy (DOE) funding intended to jump-start new prospects for global energy futures.

Zhou's is one of four projects selected to share in up to $4.6 million awarded by the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to develop advanced hydrogen storage materials that have potential to enable longer driving ranges and help make fuel cell systems competitive for different platforms and sizes of vehicles. The Energy Department has described these advanced hydrogen storage systems as critical to the widespread commercialization of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.

Zhou, a professor in the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry since 2008 and a Davidson Professor of Science since 2014, was awarded $1.2 million of that $4.6 million total in support of his proposal, "High-Capacity and Low-Cost Hydrogen-Storage Sorbents for Automotive Applications." Already in his young career, he has earned six DOE grants individually in excess of $1 million, including two in the past five years under the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program, During the past three years alone, he has more than $8 million in external research funding from DOE, the U.S. Department of Defense and the Robert A. Welch Foundation.

Zhou's present $1.2 million project -- a collaborative effort between his research group and Argonne National Laboratory -- seeks to develop new low-cost, high-capacity hydrogen-storage devices that exceed the "Chahine rule," or the expected hydrogen adsorption per unit of surface area.

"Hydrogen fuel-cell-driven cars are zero-emission vehicles with high-energy efficiency, but their driving range is limited by their hydrogen storage capacity onboard," Zhou said. "The goal of this project is to find high-capacity and low-cost hydrogen-storage sorbents for automotive applications."

Microporous materials have proven to be the most promising candidates for such a task, and Zhou is a go-to global expert in the design of one of the primary types: metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). These precisely arranged and highly porous coordination polymer networks hold promise in a variety of energy and environment-related areas and top all other leading materials for total methane storage capacity -- a world record Zhou's group held from 2008 to 2013, as confirmed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

"Since arriving at Texas A&M, Joe has set up an impressive research operation in the very topical area of metal-organic-framework (MOF) chemistry," said Dr. François P. Gabbaï, professor and head of the Department of Chemistry and holder of the Arthur E. Martell Endowed Chair. "MOFs are viewed by many as the fastest growing class of solid materials. This fast growth reflects the many areas in which MOFs are playing prevalent roles. In the span of just a few years, Joe has become a leading figure in many of these areas, including hydrogen storage and carbon capture."

In this case, Zhou is aiming big once again, hoping to produce hydrogen-storage materials during the three-year project that meet or exceed the DOE's 2017 performance target for onboard-storage systems while also reducing materials costs. Through a combination of rational design, novel synthesis and advanced characterization techniques, he plans to improve the hydrogen-binding capability and uptake capacity, thereby surpassing conventional cryogenic storage limits and hopefully providing the technological basis for the next logical industrial step: hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

"The proposed research, if successful, will lead to the next-generation sorption-based hydrogen storage materials scalable to industrial production for hydrogen-fueled vehicles, which have already been commercialized by automakers," Zhou said.

One of 12 Texas A&M faculty featured in Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researchers 2014, Zhou currently is the most cited chemist on the Texas A&M campus, with citations in excess of 4,000 in 2014 alone (ISI Web of Science). Since he started his independent research in 2002, Zhou has accumulated an h-index of 58. From 2012 to present, he has published more than 80 peer-reviewed papers, including more than 30 in Nature Communications, the Journal of the American Chemical Society and Angewandte Chemie. He has served as an associate editor for Inorganic Chemistry since 2013 as well as guest editor for both the first MOF Chemical Review and 2014 MOF Chemical Society Review thematic issues.

Zhou, who also holds an appointment in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has received many awards recognizing his pioneering 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. A member of the Texas A&M Energy Institute, he has served since 2011 as the co-founder and chief scientific advisor for framergy® Inc., a Texas-based startup company that specializes in commercializing framework materials with applications in the clean-energy sector, particularly methane storage and carbon capture.

"Joe's group is generating a continuous flow of discoveries often published in the top international journals," Gabbaï said. "The significance and impact of his work is reflected by the exceptionally high number of citations that his work generates. In 2014 alone, his work was cited more than 4,000 times, which may be one of the highest if not the highest number on campus for 2014. His success in attracting funding has been nothing short of outstanding. He is also at the forefront of many collaborative projects and initiatives on campus. Joe is a model for us all!"

To learn more about Zhou and his research, go to http://www.chem.tamu.edu/rgroup/zhou/research.html.

For additional information on the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry, visit http://www.chem.tamu.edu.

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About Research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world's leading research institutions, Texas A&M is at the forefront in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represented annual expenditures of more than $820 million in FY 2013, ranking Texas A&M in the top 20 of the National Science Foundation's most recent survey of research and development expenditures among U.S. colleges and universities. Recently reported FY 2014 research expenditures exceed $854 million. 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. To learn more, visit http://research.tamu.edu.

-aTm-

Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu or Dr. Hongcai Joe Zhou, (979) 845-4034 or zhou@chem.tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Texas A&M chemist Hongcai Joe Zhou is an international expert in the design of metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) -- precisely arranged and highly porous coordination polymer networks that hold promise in a variety of energy and environment-related areas and top all other leading materials for total methane storage capacity.

  • One of 12 Texas A&M faculty featured in Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researchers 2014, Zhou currently is the most cited chemist on the Texas A&M campus, with citations in excess of 4,000 in 2014 alone (ISI Web of Science). Since he started his independent research in 2002, Zhou has accumulated an h-index of 58.

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