Michael Machczynski and Jianfeng Jiang Receive Grants from American Chemical Society for Research into Storing Solar Energy

Dr. Jianfeng Jiang, assistant professor of chemistry

Sep 22, 2009 — Dr. Michael Machczynski and Dr. Jianfeng Jiang, assistant professors of chemistry at Yeshiva University, have each been awarded grants of $50,000 over two years from the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund to investigate means of efficiently storing energy from the sun.

The professors’ complementary research projects involve the development of enzymes as catalysts to convert water to oxygen, which is necessary to store solar energy in a chemical form, such as hydrogen or methanol. The aim is to develop a cost-effective, renewable alternative to expensive platinum-based catalysts.

“We’re certainly doing cutting-edge work,” said Machczynski. “The only energy source that can cover the whole world is solar.”

For the U.S., he added, “This is not just an energy issue. This is a national security issue.”

The grants enable the professors and their students to purchase and share a powerful piece of electronic hardware fundamental to modern electrochemical studies—the potentiostat—as they seek new energy technology.

“Most of our energy source now is fossil fuel, which will only last another hundred years,” said Jiang. “When we burn it, we produce carbon dioxide that causes global warming.

“But hydrogen gas only produces water,” he said. “My research, basically, is in how we are going to make hydrogen more convenient and cheap.”

The sun itself, as the energy source to be exploited, is both free and plentiful. Machczynski said the amount of sunlight that falls on Earth in a single hour produces enough energy to supply power to the entire world for a year.

Of the opportunity provided by the grants, Machczynski said, “It’s fantastic, it’s exciting. This is helping to renew the experimental science program at Yeshiva. The students are going to be able to get their hands on this.”

According to news media accounts, American business leaders at a recent Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit acknowledged that the United States’s investment in clean energy technology lagged behind those of other countries—notably China, Denmark, Japan, South Korea, India, Singapore and Abu Dhabi. But Machczynski and Jiang said the situation changed radically when Barack Obama became president in January, and is progressing in synch with improved profitability in the stock market.

“We’re getting our act together in the U.S.” noted Machczynski, who said Washington has committed $150 billion over the next decade for alternative energy research, about half of which comes from federal economic stimulus funds released this year.

As for YU’s role in the new clean energy paradigm, Jiang said, “We’ve really grown in the past five or six years, when we’ve had almost no external funding.”

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