Chemical Engineering professor receives $340,000 grant

05/25/2016: NMSU Chemical and Materials Engineering (CHME) professor Thomas Manz. (Photo by Darren Phillips)

NMSU Chemical and Materials Engineering professor Thomas Manz. (Photo by Darren Phillips)

A professor in New Mexico State University’s Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering was recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant totaling more than $340,000 to continue his research into finding a renewable source of energy.

In the broad sense, Thomas Manz’s research focuses on the separation of the gases produced in solar water splitting, where sunlight turns water into hydrogen and oxygen.

The significance of this is that hydrogen, when produced in sufficient quantities, can be used as a renewable source of clean-burning fuel, because hydrogen produces only water when burned. In addition to a cleaner-burning fuel, hydrogen fuel would also be cheaper than oil, Manz hypothesized in his research proposal to the NSF.

“This project’s goal is to design membranes that will be useful for separating the hydrogen and oxygen,” Manz said.

Current hydrogen-filtering membranes cannot be used with hydrogen and oxygen separation, Manz said, because the oxygen oxidizes and degrades the metal of current membranes’ pipes.

In a narrower sense, Manz’s research is to develop excellent “computational methods,” which can be used by other research groups for a wide variety of applications, he said.

“I’m very happy to receive this grant,” Manz said. “This is my first external funding for my research program, so it’s very important.”

The grant Manz received is the Faculty Early Career Development (Career) Program award. Awards in this category, which are the foundation’s “most prestigious,” are given “in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”

As an assistant professor, Manz qualified as junior faculty.

“Of course we’re excited about it,” said David Rockstraw, head of the CHME Department. “The Early Career award is the pinnacle for any young faculty member who is tasked with developing a research program.”

This is the second time in less than five years that NMSU’s CHME Department has had a faculty member receive the Early Career award. Associate Professor Jessica Houston also received the award in 2012.

“It makes it obvious to others what I’ve known for a few years now: we have a very strong group of young faculty,” Rockstraw said. “As a group they’re significantly more productive than their peers in other chemical engineering departments.”

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