MSU chemist Milton Smith has been awarded a three-year, $500,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Energy for renewable energy research.
Smith’s research will focus on converting ammonia into 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.
"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 in the College of Natural Science. “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.”
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, although 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,” said Smith. “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.”