Javad Rafiee, a doctoral student in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has developed a new graphene material for storing hydrogen at room temperature. The novel form of engineered graphene has exhibited a hydrogen storage capacity of 14% by weight at room temperature, exceeding the capacity of current materials. DOE has set a gravimetric storage target for vehicular on-board hydrogen storage (for the entire system, not just the material) of 6% wt. by 2010 and 9% wt. by 2015.
For this innovation, Rafiee is the winner of the 2010 $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize, and is among the four 2010 $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Collegiate Student Prize winners this year. Rafiee is the fourth recipient of the Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize. The prize, first given in 2007, is awarded annually to a Rensselaer senior or graduate student who has created or improved a product or process, applied a technology in a new way, redesigned a system, or demonstrated remarkable inventiveness in other ways.
With adviser and Rensselaer Professor Nikhil Koratkar, Rafiee used a combination of mechanical grinding, plasma treatment, and annealing to engineer the atomic structure of graphene to maximize its hydrogen storage capacity. Rafiee’s graphene exhibits three critical attributes that result in its unique hydrogen storage capacity:
- High surface area. Graphene’s unique structure, only one atom thick, means that each of its carbon atoms is exposed to the environment and, in turn, to the hydrogen gas.
- Low density. Graphene has one of the highest surface area-per-unit masses in nature, far superior to even carbon nanotubes and fullerenes.
- Favorable surface chemistry. After oxidizing graphite powder and mechanically grinding the resulting graphite oxide, Rafiee synthesized the graphene by thermal shock followed by annealing and exposure to argon plasma. These treatments play an important role in increasing the binding energy of hydrogen to the graphene surface at room temperature, as hydrogen tends to cluster and layer around carbon atoms.
Rafiee joined Rensselaer in 2008, following an internship at the City University of Hong Kong and earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical and manufacturing engineering from the University of Tabriz in Iran. At Rensselaer, Rafiee and his brother, Mohammad, joined the research group of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering Professor Nikhil Koratkar.
Rafiee is from Tehran, Iran, and expects to earn his doctorate in 2011. Following graduation, he and his brother plan to start their own business with a focus on clean energy and green manufacturing.
Lemelson-MIT Collegiate Student Prizes. In addition to Rafiee’s pioneering work, the other winners of the annual Lemelson-MIT Collegiate Student Prize are:
Lemelson-MIT Student Prize winner Erez Lieberman-Aiden demonstrated creativity and innovation across several disciplines, most recently with his invention of “Hi-C”, a three-dimensional genome sequencing method that will enable an entirely new understanding of cell state, genetic regulation and disease.
Lemelson-MIT Caltech Student Prize winner Heather Agnew contributed to the development of an innovative technique that creates inexpensive, stable, highly reliable biochemical compounds that have the potential to replace antibodies used in many standard diagnostic tests.
Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize winner Jonathan Naber and the Illini Prosthetics Team developed an affordable, durable, extremely functional prosthetic arm for people in underdeveloped countries, made from recycled materials.
Jerome H. Lemelson, one of the US’s most prolific inventors, and his wife, Dorothy, founded the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. It is funded by The Lemelson Foundation and administered by the School of Engineering. To date, The Lemelson Foundation has donated or committed more than US$150 million in support of its mission.