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Deng awarded first Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Energy Conservation

Nine years ago, Shuguang Deng left a successful career in private industry as a process engineer to come to New Mexico State University with the purpose of conducting research on energy, the environment, and water. His efforts toward that end have earned him worldwide recognition, as the first recipient of a Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Energy Conservation.


Portrait shot of Deng
Shuguang Deng's efforts to conduct research on energy, the environment, and water have earned him worldwide recognition, as the first recipient of a Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Energy Conservation. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

"I enjoyed my job, and I was good at it," said Deng, "but, I felt that energy conservation and water are some of the biggest issues facing the human race. Energy is the main driving force of the economy which we really need help with right now. I believed these were more challenging and exciting problems for me to work on and that was the main reason I came to NMSU."

The Fulbright Distinguished Chairs Program comprises approximately 40 distinguished lecturing and/or research awards ranging from three to 12 months. Awards in the Fulbright Distinguished Chairs Program are viewed as among the most prestigious appointments in the Fulbright Scholar Program, awarded to eminent scholars who have significant publication and teaching records.

Deng's academic record is, indeed, distinguished.

Deng graduated with bachelor's and master's of science degrees in chemical engineering from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China. He received his doctoral degree in chemical engineering from the University of Cincinnati.

Following his stint in the private world, Deng joined the NMSU chemical engineering faculty as an assistant professor in 2003. He is now a full professor and the holder of the first Bob Davis Professorship, named for chemical engineering alum and former president and chief executive officer of Chevron Chemical Co.

Deng has published more than 100 peer-refereed journal and book articles, has received 19 patents/applications, and has made nearly 90 conference presentations. He is on the editorial board of the "Journal of Chemical Engineering and Process Technology," the "Journal of Environmental Protection," and "Recent Patents on Chemical Engineering."

More notably, Deng has created research programs at NMSU in hydrogen fuel cells and water treatment technology, obtaining grants of approximately $6 million through which 24 graduate students, as well as undergraduates and post-doctoral fellows, have had the opportunity to work under his advisement.

From February 2013 to August 2013, students at the National University of Science and Technology in Moscow, Russia, will also have the opportunity to benefit from Deng's expertise. His Fulbright award will fund a joint research and teaching project in hydrogen fuel cell and energy conservation.

The objective of Deng's research is to evaluate the hydrogen storage performance of materials to be used in automotive applications and to promote hydrogen fuel cell technology as an effective method for energy conversion and conservation.

"Fuel cells are the future of automobiles and will be the engine for economic growth. The hydrogen economy is 100 percent renewable: it can be generated from solar, wind or biomass and the only byproduct is pure water. In the next 10 to 15 years the structure will be in place to support fuel-cell powered vehicles," he said.

"A fuel cell is similar to a battery. It converts chemicals into energy," said Deng. "The difference between a fuel cell and a battery is that the battery has a life span; when the chemical is used up, it's gone. Fuel cells provide a continual flow of energy."

The biggest challenge to widespread application of hydrogen fuel cells is in finding a method to efficiently, economically and safely store hydrogen onboard a vehicle.

Deng's research in Moscow will build on work he is currently conducting with chemical engineering colleagues Martha Mitchell and Paul Andersen. They are working with a new porous material, known as metal-organic framework (MOF) that has shown a high storage capacity for hydrogen. The group has developed an MOF that has possibly one of the highest hydrogen storage capacities ever reported.

The process relies on physical adsorption of hydrogen into the pore structure of the MOFs, which have extremely large surface areas that can be modified to attract and store hydrogen.

Their work is funded with a $576,000, three-year grant from the Army Research Office with the goal of developing a portable power supply in the battlefield that is less expensive, lighter and last longer than batteries that are currently used.

A doctoral student from Moscow and one from NMSU will be engaged in the research to further develop the use of MOFs for automotive application. A specialized piece of equipment at NMSU, called a Rubotherm balance, will be used to measure how much hydrogen has been adsorbed in the material, and how fast the hydrogen is adsorbed.

Ultimately, Deng plans to design a hydrogen storage tank and integrate the storage system into selected models of automobiles with feedback from automobile manufacturers in Russia and other European countries.

In addition to his research, Deng will teach "Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Technology," one of the most popular chemical engineering elective courses at NMSU which Deng developed and has taught for the past seven years. He will also present a series of seminars on energy conversion, conservation and sustainability for students, as well as interested professionals, and advise his host institution on its energy and environment-related curricula.

"I grew up in Russia's Socialist younger brother, China. I'm familiar with Russian history since 1918," said Deng. "It will be a very interesting experience."