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Mechanical engineering professor earns NSF grant

March 25, 2021

Like Li, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in Mississippi State’s Bagley College of Engineering and also affiliated with the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems at Mississippi State, will receive nearly $170,000 from the National Science Foundation to help study the thermochemical reactions that occur during solar thermal energy storage.

Headshot of Like Li

Mechanical engineering assistant professor Like Li (photo by Russ Houston / © Mississippi State University)

The grant is one of just 35 awarded nationwide as part of the NSF’s EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Track 4 program. The 2-year project is titled “RII Track-4: Understanding Reaction-Transport Coupling in High-Temperature Thermochemical Energy Storage Systems.”

The goal of the project is to understand and quantify the fundamental reaction-transport coupling in high-temperature solar thermochemical energy storage (TCES) materials and structures.

“We will focus on understanding the fundamental science of these reactions,” Li said. “Through high-fidelity pore-scale computational modeling and experimental sample testing we’ll be looking at how the reaction and heat transport take place during solar energy storage and how they interact with each other on microscale material samples.”

While focused on thermochemical reactions, Li’s research could be useful for the design of next-generation solar reactors and materials that would help maximize energy storage density. It could also have broader impacts for a wide spectrum of high temperature gas-solid reactions beyond those occurring in solar energy storage, such as chemical looping combustion, air separation, biomass/waste gasification, and steam reforming.

Part of the grant will help Li and a graduate student travel to Michigan State University for several months of experimental testing.

Li is also part of a nationwide team that recently received a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a low-cost, zero-emission solid-state fuel that can efficiently store solar energy through high-temperature thermochemical reactions.

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By Philip Allison