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UofL researcher Spurgeon wins NSF CAREER Award; explores renewable hydrogen fuels

Updated: Jun 26, 2020

Dr. Josh Spurgeon, theme leader for Solar Fuels at UofL Conn Center, conducts a water splitting experiment to create hydrogen fuels. Photo by Tom Fougerousse.

Dr. Joshua Spurgeon, theme leader for Solar Fuels at Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research at the University of Louisville’s J. B. Speed School of Engineering, has been funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF’s) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program for research and education over the next 5 years. As one of NSF’s most prestigious honors, Spurgeon is especially distinguished as a non-faculty recipient, one of the few ever awarded.

Spurgeon’s research at Conn Center is on the production of hydrogen fuel from water with solar energy. By shining sunlight onto a photocatalyst in water, the hydrogen-oxygen bond can be broken to store the solar energy on-demand as hydrogen, which is an energy-dense product. This fuel is especially useful in transportation and utilities and has no greenhouse gas emissions.

“The current state-of-the-art for solar hydrogen generation is to use commercially mature photovoltaics and electrolyzers to split water,” says Spurgeon. “However, when combined this way, the cost is not economically competitive with hydrogen derived from natural gas. This NSF funding explores integration of all the systems into a single particle catalyst to make the overall system much cheaper. The particle design proposed in this work will also address inefficiencies in existing particulate-based water-splitting research.”

The NSF CAREER Award is designed to support promising young faculty members who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar through the combination of outstanding research and education. Spurgeon will be awarded $500K to conduct this research.

As part of this program, Dr. Spurgeon will also be involved in the creation and fostering of a new Materials and Energy Science and Engineering (MESE) master’s degree at UofL, one which will include renewable energy topics. He will also work with underrepresented undergraduate students from historically black colleges and universities for research internships and final year graduate students on entrepreneurship and commercialization.

This research would provide the most viable route yet demonstrated for economically competitive solar hydrogen generation,” says Dr. Mahendra Sunkara, director of Conn Center. “This would enable low-cost solar energy storage and sustainable fuel production. Such a technology could revolutionize the energy industry and greatly expand the energy independence of the United States.”

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