U.S. DOE Invests $100M in New Scientific Research for Energy Breakthroughs

The U.S. Department of Energy will be awarding $100 million in a second round of funding for Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRC) to accelerate the scientific breakthroughs in energy production, storage, and use. The first round of funding in 2009 established 36 EFRCs.

Awards range from $2 million to $4 million per year per center for up to four fiscal years. The 32 projects receiving funding were competitively selected from more than 200 proposals. Ten of these projects are new while the rest received renewed funding based both on their achievements to date and the quality of their proposals for future research.

Research centers gaining a 2nd round of funding, presumably for those gaining major traction, went to:

– California Institute of Technology’s Light Material Interactions in Energy Conversion

– Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Center for Nanoscale Controls on Geologic  CO2

– University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Gas Separations Relevant to Clean Energy Technologies

– Carnegie Institute of Washington’s Energy Fronteir Research in Extreme Environments

– University of Delaware’s Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation

– Argonne National Laboratory’s Center for Electrochemical Energy Sciences 

– Purdue University’s Center for Direct Catalytic Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels

– University of Notre Dame’s Materials Science of Actinides

– Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Excitonics

Twenty three of the projects receiving funding are headed by universities, eight are led by the Energy Department’s National Laboratories and one project is run by a non-profit organization. Click here to see the full list.

The U.S. DOE plans to open the EFRC program to new applications every two years.

Since their establishment by the Department’s Office of Science, the EFRCs have produced 5,400 peer-reviewed scientific publications and hundreds of inventions at various stages of the patent process.

Some  promising areas of research at labs that received DOE funding include:

Washington University’s The Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center received $14.4 million to continue research on natural and bio-inspired systems for harvesting the sun’s energy, including antennas that collect solar photons. And at an event sponsored by the U.S. DOE last year, prolific clean tech VC Matthew Nordan of MBL Partners said that he sees huge opportunities in the area of resonating solar, or rectifying antennas, which converts solar energy into vibrations that can be converted into electricity at efficiency rates of 80 to 90 percent.

Harvard won $11 million to develop new methods to reduce energy consumption in the production of industrial chemicals, which now accounts for an astounding 25 percent of the world’s energy consumption, says Harvard. The research will focus on developing “sustainable catalysis,” finding ways to increase the energy efficiency of “the manufacture of important chemicals used in huge quantities to produce products that are part of our everyday life.”

Carnegie won $10 million for basic research that could lead to the discovery of new energy materials for energy conversion, storage, and transport. The program leverages on-going work undertaken in the first phase of the center, initiated in 2009. Partners in this Carnegie-led center include five universities—Caltech, Cornell, Penn State, Lehigh, and Colorado School of Mines—and will use facilities built and managed by the Geophysical Laboratory at Argonne, Brookhaven, and Oak Ridge National Laboratories.

Purdue’ Center for Direct Catalytic Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels received $12 million to advance methods for converting plant lignocellulosic biomass — the bulk of the plant — to biofuels and other bio-based products currently derived from oil by the use of new chemical catalysts and thermal treatments. “We are accelerating the transformation of biomass that naturally occurs over geological ages to timescales of minutes,” said research director Maureen McCann. And the research center has filed six patent applications and launched a bio-chemicals startup, Spero Energy, according to Purdue’s President.

The Energy Frontier Research Center for Solar Fuels at UNC received a $10.8 million for a dye-sensitized photoelectrosynthesis cell. The funds will support the center’s work optimizing the device’s components and integrating them into devices for generating and storing solar fuels for long durations.

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