Liangbing Hu Is Key PI of New Energy Earthshot Research Center

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Maryland Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) Professor Liangbing Hu joins a new research center aimed at developing sustainable chemical processes that will reduce industrial greenhouse emissions, a project led by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). 

Hu will contribute to the Non-Equilibrium Energy Transfer for Efficient Reactions Center (NEETER) as a principal investigator, where he joins a research team focused on replacing bulk heating–which involves the burning of fossil fuels–with heat derived from electricity. Decarbonizing these heating processes will not only reduce the carbon footprint, as 40% of the industrial gas emissions come from chemical processes, but will also introduce a novel way to do chemistry.

In an effort to mitigate the climate crisis, researchers will explore two methods of electrification: one is called mechanocatalysis, which is a mechanically-induced reaction system, and the second one is known as Joule heating, which involves using electricity to generate a rapid temperature increase for efficient chemical processing. 

“We have developed a novel Joule heating approach in the past few years, which allows us to accurately program the temperature profile to control reaction pathways in a range of thermochemical processes, thereby improving the reaction outcome,” said Hu.

He and Assistant Research Scientist Qi Dong will work on the Joule heating approach, published in Nature in 2023 and 2022, which they predict could lead to substantial energy efficiency and performance improvements in many chemical reactions when compared to the conventional process powered by combustion. To realize the technology to its fullest potential, researchers will now continue exploring many fundamental aspects through the new research center.

“NEETER will be a great platform for gaining mechanistic insights as well as advancing the technology for its application in the chemical industry,” said Dong, who will be joining the Department of Chemistry at Purdue University next year as an assistant professor.  

In addition to University of Maryland, researchers from the University of Tennessee, Stanford University, Princeton University, Delaware State University, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Houston, will participate in the four-year, $19 million project led by ORNL. 

NEETER’s mission is to understand and control non-equilibrium heat transfer in endothermic catalytic reactions for the decarbonization of the US chemical industry.

Published October 12, 2023