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MSU Chemist Gets DOE Grant for Renewable Energy Work

Milton Smith

Milton Smith, Michigan State University College of Natural Science chemistry professor, has been awarded a three-year, $500,000 grant for research on renewable energy by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Smith’s research will focus on converting ammonia to hydrogen and nitrogen gases, where the hydrogen gas could be used to fuel hydrogen-powered vehicles. If the hydrogen were to be produced from renewable resources like solar energy, ammonia would be a zero-carbon, renewable fuel whose only byproducts would be the nitrogen gas that is present in the atmosphere and water.

Ammonia is currently synthesized from nitrogen gas, which comprises 80 percent of Earth’s atmosphere. Using the Haber-Bosch process, ammonia is prepared from nitrogen and hydrogen gases on enormous scales. Ammonia’s primary use is for fertilizer, but its energy content is similar to that of methanol, which fueled cars at the Indianapolis 500 from 1965-2006. Recently, new hydrogen/hybrid vehicles were launched commercially, even though it is not economical to store or transport large volumes of hydrogen gas for vehicular use. In contrast, ammonia liquefies at low pressures and there is an extensive pipeline network for its distribution in the United States.

“Funding from the DOE allows us to develop new chemistry that could change our energy infrastructure,” Smith said. “As importantly, it provides students with opportunities to grow on their journeys to independence, something I have seen in my own family members – two of whom are College of Natural Science alumni. What students learn by stepping beyond the boundaries of textbooks is invaluable.

“I look forward to my students, and those I’m fortunate to work with from other research groups at MSU, ‘paying it forward’ in exciting ways with the investments like the one that the DOE is making in them,” he added.

“Professor Smith brings an uncommon combination of breadth and depth to questions of how chemistry, in general, and catalysis, in particular, can help solve global sustainability problems,” said Robert Maleczka, professor and chairperson of the MSU Department of Chemistry. “The broad ranging science being done by Mitch and his students has helped drive the chemistry department’s and the college’s reputation as leaders in areas of green chemistry, energy and sustainability.  Mitch’s new DOE grant adds yet another element to his and the department’s portfolio of sustainability-related research projects.”

– via College of Natural Science website

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