In one hour, the sun can provide enough energy to power human civilization for an entire year, but the cost and storage of solar energy prevents its widespread use.

Amanda Morris, an assistant professor in inorganic and energy chemistry in the College of Science at Virginia Tech, is adapting plants’ strategies for using sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide to food – usually some form of sugar that is stored in plant tissue – to instead provide a chemical fuel, which can be utilized as a transportation or residential energy source.

Morris has received a three-year, $450,000 grant from the Department of Energy for her research. She develops catalysts that can oxidize water and use the electrons produced to reduce carbon dioxide to methane or higher order alcohols. 

“This research has the potential for massive economic and environmental impact," Morris said. "Sunlight is free, so our work could directly reduce what the general population is charged for energy use. This method of producing energy is also overall carbon neutral and, therefore, mitigates any future climate altering effects from added atmospheric carbon dioxide, a known greenhouse gas.”

Her work is a continuation of a Junior Faculty Collaborative award from Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science with Eva Marand, a professor of chemical engineering. 

“Our [institute] funding was essential to providing the scientific foundation required to attain this larger funding opportunity,” Morris said.

Morris earned her bachelor’s degree from Penn State University and her doctorate at Johns Hopkins University. Before coming to Virginia Tech, she was a postdoctoral associate at Princeton University. She joined Virginia Tech in 2011.



Written by Kelly Kaiser.


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