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ChemE Professor Wins ORAU Junior Faculty Enhancement Award

PITTSBURGH (June 6, 2019) — Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) has selected James McKone, PhD, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, to receive the Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award. 

ORAU is a consortium of more than 100 universities whose mission is to integrate academic, government and scientific resources globally in order to advance national priorities and serve the public interest. Dr. McKone’s recognition includes a $5,000 research award that will be matched by the University to fund his lab’s research in applied electrochemistry, specifically an emerging technology in large-scale energy storage called the redox flow battery.

“Most batteries, like the ones that power electric cars, need to fit as much energy into the smallest package possible,” explains Dr. McKone. “With the redox flow battery, we are less worried about space—ultimately, our battery would probably be the size of a factory floor. It would use liquid instead of solid material to store energy, which allows us to choose components that are low-cost, safe and long-lasting. 

This enormous battery would be used to collect energy from power plants—including conventional fossil fuel plants and wind or solar farms—and send it out to the power grid as needed. It would provide the energy storage and regulation necessary to prevent energy waste, a problem that results from the mismatch between electricity supply and demand.

For his ORAU-supported project, Dr. McKone will partner with Thomas Zawodzinski, PhD, the Governor’s Chair Professor in Electrical Energy Conversion and Storage at the University of Tennessee - Knoxville with a joint appointment at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Their goal is to increase the efficiency of redox flow batteries, making it easier for the power grid to accommodate massive quantities of renewable power. 

“This award will help us to build a scale model—about the size of a credit card—of a fully functional redox flow battery,” says Dr. McKone. “Our group will then design and implement a new type of analytical platform that we can use to understand—and then improve—its efficiency.”  

About James McKone
Prof. James McKone earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and music from Saint Olaf College in 2008, where he began his research career pursuing synthesis of novel transition metal complexes. He holds a PhD in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology, where he developed materials and methods for solar-driven water electrolysis. From 2013 to 2016, Dr. McKone was a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Cornell University studying electrocatalysis and battery energy storage. In the fall of 2016, he joined the faculty in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh as an Assistant Professor. Dr. McKone’s research group studies fundamentals and applications of electrochemistry, photochemistry, and materials design with an eye toward improving environmental sustainability in the energy and chemical sectors.

Author: Maggie Pavlick

Contact: Paul Kovach