Helping Hydrogen: Lemelson Winner Tackles Challenge of Hydrogen Storage
Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize winner Javad Rafiee
Determined to play a key role in solving global dependency on fossil fuels, Javad Rafiee, a doctoral student in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering, has developed a new method for storing hydrogen at room temperature.
Rafiee has created a novel form of engineered graphene that exhibits hydrogen storing capacity far exceeding any other known material. For this innovation, which brings the world a step closer to realizing the widespread adoption of clean, abundant hydrogen as a fuel for transportation vehicles, Rafiee is the winner of the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize.
“Invention is the key ingredient of progress, and the Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize rallies our students to innovate world-changing solutions for the grand challenges facing all people of all nations,” said President Shirley Ann Jackson. “Javad Rafiee has the vision of a robust national hydrogen economy and a world less dependent on oil and gasoline. I applaud his efforts toward this noble goal, and congratulate him on this prestigious award. I thank all of the entrants and finalists for their effort, zeal, and for being ambassadors of progress.”
Rafiee is the fourth recipient of the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize. The prize 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.
Enabling Greener Transportation With Graphene
Hydrogen storage has proven to be a significant bottleneck to the advancement and proliferation of fuel cell and hydrogen technologies in cars, trucks, and other applications. Rafiee has developed a new method for manufacturing and using graphene, an atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged like a nanoscale chain-link fence, to store hydrogen. His solution is inexpensive and easy to produce.
With adviser and Rensselaer MANE 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. This new graphene has exhibited a hydrogen storage capacity of 14 percent by weight at room temperature far exceeding any other known material.
This 14-percent capacity surpasses the U.S. Department of Energy 2015 target of realizing a material with hydrogen storage capacity of 9 percent by weight at room temperature. Rafiee said his graphene is also one of the first known materials to surpass the Department of Energy’s 2010 target of 6 percent.
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 Koratkar’s research group.
“Javad is extremely knowledgeable, has great confidence in his abilities, and has demonstrated a very high level of creativity and originality. However, it is his deep passion and enthusiasm for research and discovery coupled with his amazing drive and energy that differentiates him from his peers,” Koratkar said. “This passion and excitement for discovery and innovation is not something that can be taught or learned. It is an intrinsic quality of an individual either you have it or you don’t and Javad is the most intellectually curious student I have ever had the privilege to advise here at Rensselaer.”
In his time at Rensselaer, Rafiee, from Tehran, Iran, has authored five, and co-authored three, journal papers in various disciplines. He expects to earn his doctorate in 2011. Following graduation, Rafiee and his brother plan to start their own business with a focus on clean energy and green manufacturing.
The $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Rensselaer Student Prize is funded through a partnership with the Lemelson-MIT Program, which has awarded the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize to outstanding student inventors at MIT since 1995.