UD’s Bingjun Xu awarded AFOSR Young Investigator grant

The University of Delaware’s Bingjun Xu is one of 58 scientists and engineers across the U.S. to receive a three-year research grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) Young Investigator Program (YIP). The awards this year total $20.8 million.

The YIP is open to scientists and engineers at research institutions who received Ph.D. or equivalent degrees in the past five years and who show exceptional ability and promise for conducting basic research.

The objective of the program is to foster creative basic research in science and engineering, enhance early career development of outstanding young investigators, and increase opportunities for the young investigators to recognize the Air Force mission and the related challenges in science and engineering.

Xu’s research will focus on catalyst development to enable flameless combustion of hydrogen in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

More commonly known as drones, UAVs have limited range because they are primarily battery powered. Xu will investigate the replacement of batteries with hydrogen-powered fuel cells as the energy source to extend the operating range of UAVs.

“Hydrogen has the highest specific energy of all known fuels,” says Xu, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UD. “Hydrogen-powered fuels cells have been used in commercial vehicles such as the Toyota Mirai, but this application has required the use of expensive platinum-based catalysts.”

Xu plans to develop nonprecious metal-based catalysts to reduce the cost of hydrogen fuel cells by manipulating the composition and structure of materials on the molecular level under alkaline, rather than acidic, operating conditions. The work leverages research being conducted under a recent ARPA-E award to a team that includes Xu and is led by Yushan Yan.

Xu earned his doctorate in physical chemistry at Harvard University in 2011 and then spent two years at the California Institute of Technology as a postdoctoral researcher. He joined the UD faculty in 2013. He has published almost 40 papers in refereed journals and is a co-inventor on five patents.

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