April 16, 2014

Energy Initiative provides first round of research seed funding

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

Six energy research projects that touch on energy materials, solar energy, water and shale development, and industrial energy efficiency will get a head start thanks to funding from the Energy Initiative.

The six will share $215,000 in seed funding awards from the Energy Initiative, including co-funding from the Pratt School of Engineering and the Information Initiative at Duke. The funded projects will involve 16 faculty, two post-doctoral students, five Ph.D. students, and four professional and undergraduate students across four schools.

These are the first awards made by the newly established Energy Research Seed Fund, which provides support for new multi-disciplinary, collaborative research teams with the larger goal of enabling Duke University investigators to obtain critical preliminary results that have a high likelihood of obtaining external funding.

"These projects all align with the Energy Initiative's goals to explore solutions to top global energy challenges: meeting growing energy demand, reducing the environmental impact of energy, and addressing energy security concerns," Energy Initiative Director Richard Newell said. "It's a measure of Duke's university-wide commitment to these goals that we are able to partner with other programs to provide critical initial support to such important research."

Many of the projects involve energy materials research, several of which will enhance solar energy utilization. The Energy Initiative will promote further integration and collaboration across these groups.

The Provost was instrumental in creating this year's fund and has agreed to provide a portion of the funds support next year. The Energy Initiative will seek funding collaboration from additional Duke schools and centers, and will promote the fund as an opportunity for donors to help develop Duke's energy research portfolio.

The funded projects and their investigators:

  1. Data development for measuring the impact of energy efficiency assessments: Linking the DOE Industrial Assessment Center Database to the U.S. Census of Manufacturing --  This project seeks to link publically available DOE databases on industrial energy efficiency assessments and confidential plant information collected by the Census Bureau. The linked database will facilitate new analysis on the impact of the DOE industrial energy efficiency program. INVESTIGATORS: Co-principals: Gale A. Boyd, Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, and Jerome P. Reiter, Trinity College of Arts and Science.
  2. A global perspective of water scarcity and unconventional shale gas development -- This research will establish a hydrological and water availability GIS database for shale basins in the United States, Canada, South Africa and China, and explore marginal waters that may serve as alternative water sources for hydraulic fracturing in these basins. It will assess the viability and cost of using these alternative water sources, and will look at technologies for treating and/or reusing shale gas wastewater. INVESTIGATORS: Principal: Avner Vengosh, Nicholas School of the Environment. Co-principals: Erika Weinthal, Nicholas School of the Environment; Dalia Patino-Echeverri, Nicholas School of Environment; and Marc Deshusses, Pratt School of Engineering.
  3. Modular Solar AC Battery -- This work will demonstrate a novel concept and system for integration of energy source, storage, and conversion elements. The key concept is to unpack conventional hard-wired electricity source and storage modules into their constituent cells and integrate these cells into a novel, dynamically reconfigurable circuit. The new approach can provide optimal interface and operating conditions without the need for expensive stand-alone power converters. INVESTIGATORS: Principal: Angel V. Peterchev, PhD, School of Medicine. Co-principals: Jie Liu, PhD, Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, and Jeffrey Glass, PhD, MBA, Pratt School of Engineering.
  4. Hydrogen generation by enhanced photocatalysts assisted by plasmonic structures -- This work will pursue a breakthrough in hydrogen production through photocatalytic systems with lower bulk temperatures than traditional steam reforming. The approach will reduce the necessary heat input, increase the energy efficiency, and improve the longterm stability of the catalyst. INVESTIGATORS: Co-principals: Nico Hotz, Pratt School of Engineering, and Tuan Vo-Dinh, Pratt School of Engineering and Trinity College of Arts and Sciences.
  5. Carbon-supported Earth-abundant materials with tailored interfaces for energy applications -- While solar energy is abundant, it is challenging to convert it in an economical way into useful fuel sources because of the lack of materials with sufficient conversion efficiency, long-term stability, and sufficiently low manufacturing cost. The research will pursue a promising route to create and optimize new materials made from earth-abundant sources for the efficient conversion of solar energy into fuels. INVESTIGATORS: Principal: Volker Blum, Pratt School of Engineering. Co-principals: Jeff Glass, Pratt School of Engineering, and Stefan Zauscher, Pratt School of Engineering.
  6. Plasmonic-enhanced tunnel junctions for organic solar cells -- This work will investigate novel, plasmonic tunnel junctions for organic solar cells in order to improve their power conversion efficiency. These plasmonic structures will be incorporated into multi-layer active regions deposited by resonant infrared, matrix-assisted pulsed laser evaporation. INVESTIGATORS: Principal: Adrienne Stiff-Roberts, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering. Co-principal: Maiken H. Mikkelsen, Department of Physics and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering.