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National Science Foundation Grant Supports Socially Just Hydrogen Energy Transition Research

October 18, 2023

National Science Foundation Grant Supports Socially Just Hydrogen Energy Transition Research

CHEPS logo

Members of the University of Oklahoma’s Carbon-Free H2 Energy Production and Storage project, known as CHEPS, will receive a nearly $3.6 million Growing Convergence Research grant over five years from the National Science Foundation to co-develop and deploy socially just technologies related to the hydrogen energy transition in Oklahoma’s rural and Tribal communities.

Dimitrios Papavassiliou, director of the School of Sustainable Chemical, Biological and Materials Engineering, will lead this project alongside co-principal investigators Nicholas Hayman, director of the Oklahoma Geological Survey, Katerina Tsetsura, an associate professor and Gaylord Family Professor in the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, Firat Demir, the L. J. Semrod Presidential Professor of Economics and Dingjing Shi, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. Papavassilliou is also the C. M. Sliepcevich Professor of Chemical Engineering and an OU President's Associates Presidential Professor.

“The research opportunity from this grant will allow us to do exactly what we wanted to do when we developed our original Big Idea Challenge proposal in 2020,” Papavassiliou said. “Through this NSF grant, we will combine expertise from the social sciences with our deep knowledge in engineering to create a new paradigm in research. It will truly be convergent.”

The researchers will build a socially just framework to provide ways for local communities in Oklahoma to share their current and future energy needs and to influence the development of energy solutions. The project will focus on socially just ways to produce clean and affordable hydrogen energy, an energy source that Oklahoma, with its abundance of natural gas reserves, transportation infrastructure and its robust workforce trained to work with natural gas, is well equipped to support.

“By establishing a meaningful collaboration between local community representatives and scientists who work on carbon-free hydrogen production and storage, our team hopes to test and further develop a co-creational, community-centered approach to solving the country's energy challenges,” Tsetsura said.

The CHEPS team will work alongside the OU Native Nations Center to involve Tribal communities in their research. The Citizen Potawatomi Nation in Shawnee will provide valuable guidance and help connect the team with other Tribal collaborators with an emphasis on just outcomes.

“When we wrote our Big Idea Challenge a few years ago, we planned how to communicate technical information to a non-technical rural audience, essentially telling people what we will be doing,” Papavassiliou said. "Since that time, we’ve evolved our thinking. We now plan to discuss the technologies and ramifications with the residents and decide together what needs to be done moving forward.”

The economic implications of the green hydrogen energy transition are also being evaluated by the team. If communities decide to engage with hydrogen production or storage, the team plans to examine the financial and labor-market impacts and hopefully find that wealth and jobs were created.

“At the end of this project, we hope to develop catalytic technologies to produce hydrogen in a socially just way, limit the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and use subsurface reservoirs to store hydrogen in a safe manner. We also hope to create jobs and wealth for rural communities and leave a greener, more sustainable environment for our children and our grandchildren,” Papavassiliou said.

Learn more about the CHEPS project and the Institute for Resilient Environmental and Energy Systems at the University of Oklahoma.

The project, “Transition to green energy in gas-producing regions: How the convergence of Engineering, Social Sciences and Geoscience can enable carbon-free H2 technologies,” is funded by an expected $3.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Award No. 2317726. The project began on Oct. 1, 2023, and is expected to conclude in 2028.