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May 13, 2004

U-M researchers receive grants for hydrogen research

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Two research teams at the University of Michigan are among 30 groups nationwide receiving shares of $350 million in federal funding for research projects to establish a hydrogen economy.

The Michigan researchers, one group led by professor Omar Yaghi and assistant professor Adam Matzger, both of the Department of Chemistry, and the other group led by Dwight F. Benton Professor Ralph Yang of the Department of Chemical Engineering, will receive more than $5 million to develop new materials for storing large amounts of hydrogen at normally encountered temperatures and pressures.

The Yaghi group has created materials called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), sometimes referred to as crystal sponges. MOFs are essentially scaffolds made up of linked rods, a structure that maximizes surface area. Just one gram of a MOF, in fact, has the surface area of a football field. The researchers found that they can increase the material's storage capacity by modifying the rods in various ways, making it possible to stuff more hydrogen molecules into a small area without resorting to high pressure or low temperature.

MOFs can be made from low-cost ingredients, such as zinc oxide—a common ingredient of sunscreen—and terephthalate, which is used in plastic soda bottles. "More than 500 MOFs have been synthesized and are being investigated," Yaghi said.

Matzger added: "One thing we want to know is, why are these things so good at what they do, and how can they be made better."

The Yang group has been investigating the storage of hydrogen with a new type of materials called carbon nanotubes (CNTs). Carbon nanotubes are tiny tubes made of carbon that are about 10,000 times smaller than human hair. These tubes are made up by rolled-up sheets of graphite. Yang's group is also interested in hydrogen storage in a specific type of carbon nanotubes called graphite nanofibers (GNFs). These new materials have unique adsorption properties, according to Yang, including their large hydrogen storage capacities at ambient temperature. Now Yang and his coworkers will try to figure out how to maximize the storage capacity of these new materials and also to get a fundamental understanding of the reasons for this unique property.

Matzger and Yaghi's efforts to understand exactly how MOFs work, as well as the work by Yang's group, will be funded through a grant to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory carbon center. In other work, focusing on new materials, the Matzger-Yahgi team will collaborate with researchers at Northwestern University. "In that work, we're asking what's the next generation of materials that could perhaps exceed what's possible with present MOFs," said Matzger.

The grants, announced April 27 by Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, are part of President George W. Bush's Hydrogen Research Initiative, a $1.2 billion commitment in research funding to bring hydrogen and fuel cell technology from the laboratory to the showroom.

Selected through a merit-reviewed, competitive process, the projects involve 30 lead organizations and more than 100 partners. Recipients include universities, industry and Department of Energy national laboratories.

"President Bush's administration recognizes that a hydrogen economy has the long-term potential to deliver greater energy independence by reducing America's dependence on foreign sources of energy," said Abraham. "It offers immense environmental benefits that current energy technologies cannot meet. This multi-million dollar commitment to research is a down payment on a more energy- and environmentally-secure future."

Related Links:

Omar Yaghi: http://www.umich.edu/~michchem/faculty/yaghi/

Adam Matzger: http://www.umich.edu/~michchem/faculty/matzger/

Ralph Yang: http://www.engin.umich.edu/dept/cheme/people/yang.html

U.S. Department of Energy news release: http://www.energy.gov/engine/content.do?PUBLIC_ID=15725&
BT_CODE=PR_PRESSRELEASES&TT_CODE=PRESSRELEASE


Contact: Nancy Ross-Flanigan
Phone: (734) 647-1853
E-mail: rossflan@umich.edu

Contact: Laura Bailey
Phone: (734) 647-1848
E-mail: baileylm@umich.edu