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WSU researchers receive $1.32 million to develop technology for clean, renewable fuel alternative

September 15, 2009

DETROIT- Understanding the process by which solar energy can be used to create an alternative to fossil fuel is the focus of $1.32 million Department of Energy grant recently awarded to three faculty members in the Wayne State University Department of Chemistry.


 Claudio Verani

Claudio Verani, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry and resident of Sterling Heights, Mich., along with co-investigators John Endicott, Ph.D., of Mount Clemens, Mich., and Bernhard Schlegel, Ph.D., of Bloomfield Township, Mich., both professors of chemistry in WSU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, received the funding for research aimed to better understand the fundamental mechanisms of water splitting, a process that yields dihydrogen, a clean, renewable alternative to petroleum.

Concerns for the planet's limited oil resources, pollution and climate change have spurred interest in developing an alternative to oil-based fuel at an accelerated speed. Water splitting is one of the most commonly proposed approaches, where solar energy is used to produce the clean, renewable fuel dihydrogen and oxygen. However, there are several mechanisms of the process which must be understood before the technology can be utilized as a viable alternative. Among these are the multi-electronic nature of the process and the potential formation of damaging and highly reactive radical intermediates.

Verani's research will address chemical issues such as how to design molecules containing several different metal centers capable of accumulating charge for water splitting, how to transfer these charges and how to promote the dissociation of hydrogen and oxygen. They will also investigate potential catalysts capable of forming films to sustain water splitting. "This research is at the forefront of understanding the basic principles mechanisms of water splitting, an integral step in advancing dihydrogen as a clean, renewable fuel that could help end U.S. dependence on foreign oil," Verani said.

"Our approach is unique and innovative because it involves a comprehensive effort to understand the use of a heterometallic system in solution, at interfaces, and on surfaces. Our results will be relevant, if not pivotal, to the future design of cells that utilize renewable solar energy."

The research is relevant to the Department of Energy's continued interest in supporting scientific research in Basic Energy Science, including the development of new concepts and improvement of existing methods to assure a secure energy future.

"WSU was instrumental as a catalyst for Dr. Verani's vital research through internal funding programs such as the President's Research Enhancement Program and seed funding from the Office of the Vice President for Research," said Hilary Ratner, Ph.D., vice president for research at WSU. "Wayne State has great strengths in renewable energy research, and these internal awards have stimulated research resulting in increased federal research awards, which will ultimately lead to job creation and potential start-up companies."

Wayne State University is one of the nation's pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting, ranking in the top 50 in R & D expenditures of all public universities by the National Science Foundation. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information on research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.

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