New $12.5 million center at UChicago to investigate zero-emission hydrogen energy

Department of Energy Energy Frontier Research Center to seek new catalysts for sustainable energy

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded researchers at the University of Chicago $12.5 million to advance work aimed at finding innovative solutions for long-lasting hydrogen energy research — potentially offering a zero-emission alternative to fossil fuels.

The Catalyst Design for Decarbonization Center, or CD4DC, will be the first center of its kind based at the University of Chicago and will be led by Laura Gagliardi, the Richard and Kathy Leventhal Professor at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, the Department of Chemistry, and the James Franck Institute.

The call to decarbonize the chemical and energy industries requires the reduction and eventual elimination of fossil fuels. Accomplishing that goal will require the adoption of radically new approaches for producing chemicals and storing electric power harvested from the wind and sun.

“By expanding our fundamental understanding of these chemical processes, we will be able to help address one of humanity’s biggest global challenges—climate change,” said Gagliardi, who also directs the Chicago Center for Theoretical Chemistry.

“Collectively, we must invent new, renewable sources of energy,” she said. “The mission of the CD4DC is to offer an efficient, pragmatic solution that will impact society for the better, sooner.” 

Hydrogen may serve as an ideal alternative source of energy, being abundant and far more energy-dense than similar fuels such as gasoline. Future applications may also include converting electric power to chemical energy through electrolysis.

However, new catalysts – substances that increase the rate of a chemical reaction – are needed to facilitate those transformations. The central mission of the CD4DC is to discover and develop such catalysts to optimize the catalytic reactions involved.

The Catalyst Design for Decarbonization Center will be one of the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Frontier Research Centers, a program which was established in 2009 and is designed to bring together creative, multi-disciplinary scientific teams to tackle the toughest scientific challenges preventing advances in energy technologies.

Six other UChicago investigators will join Gagliardi — John Anderson, Chibueze Amanchukwu, Andrew Ferguson, Ian FosterJuan de Pablo, and Anna Wuttig.

The CD4DC will also partner with researchers at Argonne National Laboratory, Clemson University, Northwestern University, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Stony Brook Universitythe University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Minnesota.

“Meeting the Biden-Harris Administration’s ambitious climate and clean energy goals will require a game-changing commitment to clean energy — and that begins with researchers across the country,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “The research projects announced today will strengthen the scientific foundations needed for the United States to maintain world leadership in clean energy innovation, from renewable power to carbon management.” 

Funding: U.S. Department of Energy Office of Basic Energy Sciences.

Adapted from an article first published by the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering.