Research projects that examine energy materials, the water-energy-food nexus, and renewable energy policies will receive funding in 2016 from the Energy Initiative’s Energy Research Seed Fund.

Six projects involving 16 faculty members were selected for the third annual round of awards from the fund.

The Energy Research Seed Fund provides a financial head start for new multi-disciplinary, collaborative research teams, enabling them to produce critical preliminary results that have a high likelihood of obtaining future external funding. Research oriented toward solutions, rather than simply problem identification, is especially encouraged.

The 2016 round of awards is co-funded by the Energy Initiative, the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, the Pratt School of Engineering, and the Information Initiative at Duke (iiD).

The Energy Initiative and its funding partners received proposals from 16 teams including 41 faculty members.

“These projects will help Duke University further our goals of creating solutions to the world’s biggest energy challenges,” said Brian Murray, interim director of the Energy Initiative.  “We hope this opportunity will help our grant recipients get a start on critical investigations that will achieve the same success as several of the Seed Fund’s past beneficiaries.”

Last year, the fund supported seven projects with a cluster in energy materials and a focus on the intersection of energy and health. In the fund’s first year, 2014, it supported six projects that touched on energy materials, solar energy, water and shale development, and industrial energy efficiency.

The funded projects for 2016-17:

  • Creating superabsorbers for solar energy capture and conversion: theoretical design, synthesis, and characterization – New materials discovery will be accelerated and the outcome enhanced when the vastness of materials and molecular space is explored well beyond the current norm, and when materials optimization is driven by property-oriented or “inverse” approaches. This project will explore fundamental design strategies together with inverse and molecular diversity approaches to discover new chromophores with strongly focused molecular oscillator strengths. INVESTIGATORS: Co-Principal Investigators: David Beratan, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, and Michael Therein, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences.
  • Unraveling the atomistic underpinnings of hydrogen evolution from carbon nitride-based materials by RIR-MAPLE deposition, atomic-scale characterization and first-principles simulations – The cost-effective generation of fuels, e.g., hydrogen, by photo-electrocatalysis using the solar spectrum, is one of the primary unresolved challenges of renewable energy generation and storage. This project proposes a combined deposition, characterization and theory approach to investigate and enhance the activity of a particularly promising class of candidate photo-electrocatalyst materials, based on two-dimensional, polymeric carbon-nitrides. This project will develop a joint experiment-theory approach to unravel the atomic structure of the active component, opening a path for future rational enhancement of the catalytic activity by engineering the relevant defects. INVESTIGATORS: PI: Volker Blum, Pratt School of Engineering; Co-PIs: Adrienne Stiff-Roberts and Stefan Zauscher, both Pratt School of Engineering.
  • Optimal policy and investments for the electricity transition – Falling costs of intermittent renewable electricity and heightened concern about carbon dioxide emissions and other pollution from the electricity sector are spurring public and private investments in demand-side and supply-side technologies that could dramatically change how electricity is produced and consumed. This program will inform industry and policy-makers about the capacity for new pricing regimes, technologies and policy interventions to achieve demand response and the economical adoption and integration of variable renewable energy generation technologies. INVESTIGATORS: Co-PIs: Bryan Bollinger, Fuqua School of Business, and Matt Harding and Steven Sexton, both Sanford School of Public Policy.
  • Modular integrated-battery converter drivetrain for next-generation electric vehicles – This project proposes a radical new approach to designing electric vehicles by fully integrating the traction battery modules with the power electronics to provide multiple functions (i.e., traction, battery charging and battery management) using the same chip area, thus addressing the key issues of size and cost reduction, as well as reliability and efficiency increase. The main objective of the proposed work is to demonstrate improved power density and efficiency, as well as reduced cost of an electric drivetrain compared to conventional technology. INVESTIGATORS: PI: Stefan Goetz, School of Medicine; Co-PIs: Josiah Knight, Pratt School of Engineering, and Angel Peterchev, School of Medicine.
  • Plasmon-enabled water-splitting reactor driven by hot carriers and localized heat generation – The goal of this project is to develop and investigate a novel composite material for catalytic water splitting reactions driven by hot carriers and localized heat, both generated by plasmonic light absorption. The proposed research seeks a breakthrough in photocatalytic systems with increased energy efficiency, lower-temperature reaction and reduced cost. These novel photoactive materials can advance solar energy conversion research, and a functional demonstrator cell will attract tremendous attention – from the public, the scientific community and funding agencies. INVESTIGATORS: Co-PIs: Nico Hotz and Tuan Vo-Dinh, both Pratt School of Engineering.
  • Water-energy-food nexus: risks and opportunities of hydraulic fracturing fluids – This proposal seeks to build the foundation for a large-scale energy water food nexus research at Duke University, focusing on the volume, source, management and treatment of wastewater generated from shale gas and tight oil developments. The objectives of the research are to establish systematic data of the volume of wastewater generated from the major unconventional basins in the U.S.; evaluate the quality of flowback and produced waters from different basins in the U.S. and China for their potential environmental and human health risks; use the water quality dataset to model possible treatment scenarios for remediation to levels acceptable by the agricultural sector; and examine the policies for management and reuse of produced water from the energy sector through a water-energy-food nexus lens. INVESTIGATORS: PI: Avner Vengosh, Nicholas School of the Environment; Co-PIs: Erika Weinthal, Nicholas School of the Environment, and Mark Wiesner, Pratt School of Engineering.


Source: Seed fund helps catalyze Duke energy research on materials, environment, policy |