Inside Rensselaer
Volume 7, No. 11, June 14, 2013
   
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Peter Dinolfo

Peter Dinolfo
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Dinolfo Receives NYSERDA Seed Grant for Energy Storage Devices

A seed grant from NYSERDA will allow Peter Dinolfo, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology, to develop a research proposal on an industrial application for bio-inspired catalysts for energy storage devices.

“Nature has far more efficient ways to store energy through photosynthesis than we have been able to achieve through conventional batteries,” said Dinolfo. “We will be trying to design a system for storing energy that mimics nature and that can be put to use in zinc-air batteries.”

“We congratulate Peter on this grant award which is really a recognition of his emerging prominence in this field,” said Curt Breneman, head of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. “The grant, and the opportunity to vie for more in-depth research funding, are also part of an effort that NYSERDA is undertaking to strengthen their relationship with Rensselaer—specifically, with the New York State Center for Polymer Synthesis and the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.”

While nature stores energy in the chemical bonds of sugars—formed by converting sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugars—most batteries use reduction-oxidation reactions to load electrons into metals such as lead or nickel. Far more energy can be stored in the chemical bonds of sugar by volume than can be stored in the electrons of a battery, said Dinolfo.

But the reactions of photosynthesis require a catalyst, and Dinolfo hopes to mimic catalysts found in photosystem I and II, the proteins that carry out the transformation in photosynthesis. The NYSERDA grant will aid in exploration of the first half of the reactions, in which water is oxidized and oxygen is produced. The catalysts that break down water could be immediately applicable in production of zinc-air batteries, a hybrid between traditional batteries and fuel cells that uses water or hydroxide ions as a primary component of the energy storage cycle.

“We need a catalyst to do some of the reactions, but the same chemistry that occurs in plants could be applicable to this,” Dinolfo said. “The goal is to have water as a substrate. Water is readily available, it’s not toxic, and the reserve reaction produces nothing more toxic than water.”

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 7, Number 11, June 14, 2013
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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