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A little over two years ago, an ambitious group of University of Oklahoma faculty started work on Carbon-Free Hydrogen Energy Production and Storage. The CHEPS project, as it became known, was one of the Big Idea Challenge initiatives supported by the Vice President for Research and Partnerships at the University of Oklahoma.


The CHEPS group included researchers from different disciplines across campus and the Oklahoma Geological Survey. Chemical Engineers and Geoscientists teamed up with Philosophers, Psychologists, Communication Scholars, and Economists to figure out how to produce abundant, affordable, and clean energy from Hydrogen.


US energy needs are expected to grow by 30% by 2050. But the current footage of devastating wildfires in Canada, in Maui, and across the world reminds us that our growing energy needs must be satisfied in a sustainable and just manner.


In fossil-fuel-producing regions, like Oklahoma, the transition to a new energy economy requires a synergistic approach across disciplines that seem to be disparate. How can we formulate a hydrogen-focused research model that considers the special social and economic conditions of a state that depends on oil and gas production? Addressing this wicked question requires a deep understanding of intersecting social and economic factors involved in an energy transition. CHEPS was set to decode potential new vulnerabilities and energy injustices that could be created by decarbonization.  The engineering solution is to use natural gas to produce hydrogen and solid carbon without gas byproducts with novel catalytic reaction. the social science approach is to develop a social justice framework that will involve the local communities in Oklahoma in the process of co-creating engineering solutions.


As we look back in these past two years, the CHEPS team has generated a little over $9M dollars in federal funding – including a $4 million NSF grant to four CHEPS members led by Steven Crossley, two DOE grants of about $750K each to Bin Wang and to Steven Crossley, and an NSF grant through the Growing Convergence Research program for $3.6 million that has just been recommended for funding. The purpose of this last grant is to co-develop novel technologies to produce hydrogen from natural gas in collaboration with local communities. We will also identify economic vulnerabilities and public concerns, adjust our research objectives accordingly, and communicate risk for a just energy transition.


In addition to working on proposals, CHEPS became the nucleation site for hydrogen-related activities at OU. We invited experts from across the country to speak to the University community on diverse topics related to energy transition, starting from the historical significance of such events, the funding of innovation with venture capital, and the predictions for hydrogen use in the automobile industry and in the US. We also invited the campus community to an evening of sharing hydrogen research across the State, which was attended by almost 100 students and faculty. At the end of the Spring 2023 semester, we hosted a weekend-long workshop on “The Hydrogen-Powered Future: Transition to a New Energy Economy” with presentations and panel discussions by experts across the country and beyond its borders, including government, industry, and university representatives. Tomas de la Rubia, our VP for Research and Partnerships headlined the event with a keynote address on “The Hydrogen Powered Future.” 


We have fostered new collaborations with multiple institutes across the state and across the country, including Oklahoma State University and the University of Tulsa, the Ohio State University, City College in New York, Iowa State, the University of Wyoming, Louisiana State, Colorado School of Mines, the US Department of Agriculture, and the US Geological Survey in Colorado. We have collaborated with two of the four newly established research Institutes at OU: the Institute for Resilient Environmental and Energy Systems, and the Institute for Community and Society Transformation.


More importantly, we are proud to be collaborators with the Native Nations Center at OU and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation in Oklahoma.


Finally, we repeat here the motivation behind the birth of CHEPS: Research toward solving the technical and social problems for carbon-zero production of hydrogen will bring transformative changes to our State, will create prosperity, and will prepare Oklahoma to be energy diversified and environmentally friendly in the future. There is no better place than this University in this State for making this vision a reality.

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