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Florida Tech Professor Wins Federal Grant to Continue Solar Fuel Research

Michael Freund is Part of International Team Pursuing Artificial Photosynthesis

MELBOURNE, FLA. — Florida Institute of Technology Professor Michael Freund, head of the university’s Department of Chemistry, has been awarded a two-year, $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue his work developing membranes for solar fuel generation.

Over the past two decades, Freund’s research program has focused on the synthesis of polymers with advanced electronic properties. These materials are attracting considerable interest for use in plastic electronics, chemical sensing and energy storage and conversion.

The development of new, sustainable forms of energy remains one of the biggest challenges facing society today. The sun provides an enormous amount of energy and indeed drives many of the systems currently used for generating energy, such as wind, hydro and biomass.

While photovoltaics continue to be developed to convert solar energy into electricity, it is essential that solar-derived energy can be stored when sunlight is not available. Currently, batteries can be used for storage, but the energy density in these systems is low relative to chemical fuels.

Freund is part of an international team of researchers working to develop an efficient, cost-effective method of converting solar energy directly into fuel, which would revolutionize how we generate and consume energy. The team includes leaders from top institutions including California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and Ecoles Polytechniques Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. Their work focuses on chemical synthesis, solid-state chemistry and physics, electrochemistry, chemical kinetics and mechanisms, as well as theoretical and computational chemistry. Freund’s research specifically targets the integration of components within membranes to form systems that function like an artificial leaf.

“We take photosynthesis in plants for granted, but plants are highly efficient and inspirational as energy harvesting and storage systems,” said Michael Grace, Florida Tech professor and associate dean of the College of Science. “Dr. Freund’s research aims to design new electrically-conductive materials as better artificial systems for harvesting the vast energy available in sunlight.”

The team is funded through the National Science Foundation’s Center for Chemical Innovation Program (http://nsf-cci.com), which is focused on long-term fundamental chemical research into solar fuels.

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