Aiming for new frontiers in energy efficiency
RESEARCH | A new Energy Frontier Research Center at the University will focus on the development of innovative catalytic technologies for the efficient conversion of biomass such as trees and grasses into chemicals, electricity and fuels.
The U.S. Department of Energy plans to fund the center at a level of $17.5 million over five years.
“This award is an outstanding recognition of the ability and vision of our faculty in CCST [the Center for Catalytic Science & Technology] and UDEI [the University of Delaware Energy Institute],” says Mark Barteau, senior vice provost for research and strategic initiatives. “It is important to realize that beyond establishing world-class research programs on campus and partnerships with top researchers in other universities and national labs, our faculty have been actively involved in building the foundation for energy and catalysis research in the U.S.”
Nationally, the Department of Energy Office of Science plans to invest $777 million in such research centers over the next five years. The grants were announced by the White House in April in conjunction with a speech delivered by President Barack Obama at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences.
“This represents the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history,” Obama said at the time. “In no area will innovation be more important than in the development of new technologies to produce, use and save energy.”
The UD center will be led by Dion Vlachos, Elisabeth Inez Kelley Professor of Chemical Engineering and director of the CCST. The program will also have two co-directors: Jingguang Chen, Claire D. LeClaire Professor of Chemical Engineering and interim director of UDEI, and Raul Lobo, professor of chemical engineering.
According to Vlachos, the center’s mission is to develop the science base that will enable the operation of future bio-refineries and prepare the workforce for such jobs. “We are very excited about the opportunity to tackle some grand challenges in the utilization of renewables that can impact the state of Delaware and U.S. energy independence,” he says.
The team plans collaborations with scientists at other universities and will also utilize the National Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven National Laboratory and several Office of Science computational facilities.
Education and outreach opportunities will be provided through short courses, webinars and seminars that will be open to graduate and undergraduate students as well as to industry and government employees. The center will also offer undergraduate students from across the country the chance to participate in research projects.
Another outreach component will be the involvement of high school teachers and other education professionals in the center’s activities to raise awareness about the importance of biomass as a source of sustainable energy for the future.
“This is very exciting news for our College of Engineering,” Dean Michael Chajes says. “Energy is one of the core interdisciplinary research areas we have identified in our strategic plan, and the effort is also congruent with UD’s Path to Prominence, especially its Initiative for the Planet. UD has made a serious commitment to reducing its own carbon footprint as well as to supporting research focused on developing alternative energy solutions.”
In all, 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers were selected from a pool of some 260 applications nationwide. UD’s center was one of 16 selected to receive funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, where the primary criterion was job creation.
Article by Diane Kukich, AS ’73, ’84M