Zhu, winner of the 2008 Caplenor Faculty Research Award, leads research that focuses on solid oxide fuel cells, which operate at high temperatures and are best suited for use by utility companies generating power.
Since joining TTU in August 2000, he has attracted more than $1.6 million in external funding, initiated and developed a strong SOFC research program and established a state-of-the-art fuel cell research laboratory.
"Researchers have produced extremely efficient fuel cells, but the cost must come down before it's feasible to use them in common applications," says Zhu. "Our work at Tennessee Tech is focused on finding less expensive materials to produce the same efficiency."
The fundamental studies conducted by Zhu's group have clarified several critical issues related to SOFC materials. The new materials developed by the group answer questions about improved reliability and long-term stability of SOFCs.
Michael P. Brady, senior research staff member in the Materials Science and Technology Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, says Zhu has demonstrated mastery of materials science fundamentals and creatively applies them to research efforts.
"Professor Zhu possesses first-class research skills and intellect, a label I do not often apply, and is on track to establishing a national reputation in the areas of alloy design and physical metallurgy," said Brady.
Zhu's research has contributed significantly to the scientific understanding of SOFC-related materials, as he has published 23 papers in peer-reviewed journals and contributed to two patents.
"Very few faculty members have been as productive in such a short time span as Dr. Zhu," said Ken Currie, TTU's Center for Manufacturing Research director. "Plus, he deserves the mantle teacher-scholar. He has hosted successful summer fuel cell workshops for high school science teachers and students. He excites undergraduates to continue on for graduate studies. And I've never known Dr. Zhu to miss an opportunity to instruct others about the prospects and shortcomings of fuel cells."
In 2003, Zhu became the first TTU recipient of the NSF CAREER award, receiving a Faculty Early Career Development grant of more than $400,000 on the basis of creative plans to integrate research and education through his work with fuel cells.
Zhu earned his doctorate in materials science and engineering from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He earned a master's degree from China's Shanghai University and a bachelor's degree from Northeast Heavy-Machinery Institute in China.
The Caplenor Award, first presented in 1984, is the university's premier research award and is named in honor of Donald Caplenor, former associate vice president for research and dean of instructional development who died in 1979.
Phil Bettoli, professor of biology, and Kwun-Lon Ting, mechanical engineering professor, were recipients of last year's Caplenor Faculty Research Award.