Akanksha Menon Awarded NSF CAREER Award for Sustainable Energy Research
February 7, 2023
By Ashley Ritchie
Akanksha Menon, assistant professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, has been awarded a prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems (CBET).
Menon directs the Water–Energy Research Lab (WERL) at Georgia Tech, which focuses on applying thermal science and functional materials to develop sustainable energy and water technologies.
"I am incredibly honored to receive an NSF CAREER award," said Menon. "I remember attending the College of Engineering panel on writing a successful NSF proposal wondering if I would be able to do this, and here I am with a CAREER award on my first try!"
Menon’s NSF CAREER project, “Nonequilibrium effects in thermochemical energy storage: linking microstructure to thermal transport,” aims to bridge our understanding of structure-property relationships in thermochemical materials across different lengths and timescales.
Currently, thermal loads (e.g., space conditioning and hot water) account for 50% of the energy consumption in buildings. To match energy demand with supply especially from renewables, a thermal battery can be used that stores and releases energy as heat. Among the different storage materials, thermochemical salt hydrates are promising as they have a higher energy density compared to phase change or sensible storage materials. However, these salt hydrates experience mechanical stress and hygrothermal instabilities that reduce their energy density as the thermal battery is cycled (charge-discharge).
Menon aims to provide a mechanistic understanding of the key factors governing thermochemical phase transitions and their impact on coupled heat-and-mass transport, which will eventually enable the development of reversible thermal batteries with long-term stability to decarbonize buildings.
Menon's research will be complemented by two education and outreach efforts. She will provide interdisciplinary and experiential learning opportunities for traditionally underrepresented students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) from the high school to graduate levels, as well as curriculum development for teachers to increase knowledge about energy storage broadly.
Menon’s award of $607,000 over five years will provide support for both her research and education and outreach efforts.
"The funding allows me to bring on a Ph.D. student to grow our efforts in decarbonizing heat, and it also supports my educational and outreach goals – all of which is what motivated me to become a faculty member," she said.
The CAREER Program offers the NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.
Menon joined Georgia Tech as an assistant professor in 2021. Prior, she was a Rosenfeld Postdoctoral Fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where she worked on hybrid membrane-thermal desalination processes using solar energy. She also contributed to the development of thermal energy storage materials for high-temperature industrial process heat. Menon completed her Ph.D. at Georgia Tech, where she developed semiconducting polymers and new device architectures for thermoelectric energy harvesting. She holds a bachelor's degree from Texas A&M University at Qatar and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech.