With energy demand growing rapidly and fossil-fuel combustion driving climate change, it is increasingly critical that we transform how we generate, supply, transmit, store and use energy. Water is generally required to produce energy, yet purifying water requires energy, making it still more urgent that we find energy-efficient ways to purify water and water-efficient ways to produce energy.
Radical new technologies are needed. Enter the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE), Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) program. Established in 2009, its goal is to establish the scientific foundation for a new U.S. energy economy, one that will decisively enhance U.S. energy security and protect the global environment.
The DOE to date has established 36 EFRCs nationwide, partnerships among universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations and for-profit firms, each conducting fundamental research focused on “grand challenges” related to our energy future.
Several scientists affiliated with UC Santa Barbara’s California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) have now joined that effort. Four renewable, four-year UCSB projects are among 42 just approved EFRC proposals that altogether will receive $100 million in funding. IEE faculty involvement is outlined below:
Rachel Segalman "On the Water Front"
Chemical Engineering Chair Rachel Segalman is the project associate director and principal investigator on the 10-scientist UCSB team, which brings to the effort deep and broad expertise in polymer research. Working at the atomic level, the M-WET group will take a materials approach to “design and perfect” revolutionary new forms that can be used as membranes for filtering chemically contaminated water for re-use. The researchers will seek to “master energy and information on the nanoscale to create new technologies having capabilities rivaling those of living things.”
Ram Seshadri "Powering Up"
Materials and Chemistry Professor Ram Seshadri and 3 other UCSB researchers, will take a materials approach to discovering the science to enable batteries that are more powerful and energy efficient, and also last longer and charge faster. Total funding for the project is $9.75 million, with UCSB researchers receiving just under $2 million.
Jon Schuller "Great Minds"
Associate Professor Jon Schuller is the sole UCSB researcher on Quantum Materials for Energy-Efficient Neuromorphic Computing (Q-MEEN-C), a project to identify, develop and characterize quantum materials to enable energy-efficient “neuromorphic” computing. A neuromorphic computing architecture would make it possible to solve problems in a way that replicates how the human brain functions. Total funding for the four-year project is $9.75 million, with $200,000 directed at Schuller’s work.