NSF grant funds Mines bio-hybrid materials research for solar energy capture, conversion and storage

GOLDEN, Colo., July 23, 2014 – Colorado School of Mines researchers have been awarded a $420,000 grant from the Biomaterials Program in the Division of Materials Research of the National Science Foundation to overcome a key challenge in renewable energy: the capture, conversion and storage of solar power with earth-abundant materials and environmentally benign technologies.

“Biology provides blueprints to answer this challenge, where light energy conversion is accomplished at a grand scale via membrane protein functions. A fundamental question that remains to be answered is how to adapt membrane proteins to be used as biorenewable high-performance materials,” said Hongjun Liang, assistant professor in the George S. Ansell Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering and the project’s principal investigator.

Liang explained that the lipid-based biomembranes, which support membrane protein functions, are known to be incompatible with many engineered systems due to their limited stability. These proteins are the "gate-keepers" of cells, and are involved in critical life processes, such as energy conversion, matter transport and information processing. His research will develop new methodology and materials to engineer robust biohybrid nanomembranes with solar conversion performance.

“This work may ultimately lead to the production of nanoscale artificial ‘leaves’ that capture, convert and store solar power with a low environmental footprint,” he said, noting the work may also help create novel bionanotechnologies to manage matter transport and high throughput diagnostics (which allow a researcher to quickly conduct millions of tests) based on a broad range of membrane protein functions.

This project will also build a multi-tiered education program on renewable materials aimed at bringing societal awareness to sustainability and motivate undergraduate and K-12 students to pursue career paths related to bio-renewable materials.

A focused outreach component, "Summer Experience @ Mines", will target minority students at a local high school by hosting their first exposure to engineering studies and college life. A broader outreach component includes training K-12 science teachers and dissemination of the curriculum materials to local and nearby school districts.

Learn more about “Synthesis and Directed Assembly of Bio-Hybrid Materials with Membrane-Protein-Mediated Transport Performance” on the NSF website.



Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3541 / kgilbert@mines.edu
Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3088 / kmorton@mines.edu