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Stanford’s GCEP awards $10.5M for research on renewable energy; solar cells, batteries, renewable fuels and bioenergy

The Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP) at Stanford University has awarded $10.5 million for seven research projects designed to advance a broad range of renewable energy technologies, including solar cells, batteries, renewable fuels and bioenergy. The seven awards bring the total number of GCEP-supported research programs to 117 since the project’s launch in 2002.

The new funding will be shared by six Stanford research teams and an international group from the United States and Europe. The following Stanford faculty members received funding for advanced research on photovoltaics, battery technologies and new catalysts for sustainable fuels:

  • Self-healing polymers for high energy density lithium-ion batteries. The goal is to develop high-energy, durable lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles by improving the cycle life of the battery electrodes. Researchers will design self-healing polymers that can stretch to accommodate large volume changes in the battery during charge and discharge. Investigators: Zhenan Bao, Chemical Engineering; Yi Cui, Materials Science and Engineering.

  • Photo-electrochemically rechargeable zinc-air batteries. The zinc-air battery is a promising technology that has high energy density but limited power density. The research team will develop a photo-electrochemical battery with a stable zinc electrode capable of generating electricity using sunlight and air. Investigator: Hongjie Dai, Chemistry.

  • Novel inorganic-organic perovskites for photovoltaics. The mineral perovskite is a promising, low-cost material for enhancing the efficiency of silicon solar cells. The goal of this project is to develop a hybrid perovskite-silicon solar cell that significantly improves the light-to-energy conversion efficiency of conventional cells. Investigators: Michael McGehee, Materials Science and Engineering; Hemamala Karunadasa, Chemistry.

  • Light trapping in high‐efficiency, low-cost silicon solar cells. This work aims to develop a new technique for trapping sunlight in thin-film silicon solar cells. Silicon and other materials will be engineered into nanosize spheres, domes and wires that promote light absorption and improve the overall efficiency of the solar cell. Investigator: Mark Brongersma, Materials Science and Engineering.

  • Maximizing solar-to-fuel conversion efficiency in photo-electrochemical cells. The goal is to create an efficient, stable photo-electrochemical cell capable of converting sunlight into hydrogen and other renewable fuels at elevated temperatures of 500°C to 700°C. Investigators: William Chueh and Nick Melosh, Materials Science and Engineering.

  • Electrochemical conversion of carbon gases to sustainable fuels and chemicals. Researchers will use computational analysis and experimental techniques to develop new catalysts that convert carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide into renewable fuels and chemicals. Investigators: Thomas Jaramillo, Chemical Engineering; Jens Nørskov, Chemical Engineering and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory; Anders Nilsson, SLAC.

A team of scientists from the United States, Belgium and Scotland also received support for research that could lead to the large-scale conversion of cellulosic plants to biofuels:

  • Optimizing yield and composition in lignin‐modified plants. The inability to process lignin, a cement-like component of plant cell walls, has been a major hurdle in the production of biofuels from switchgrass and other cellulosic plants. In a previous GCEP study, the research team genetically engineered plants with reduced lignin that were smaller than normal. This project seeks to develop larger lignin-modified plants that can be cultivated for biofuels at scale. Investigators: Clint Chapple, Purdue University; Wout Boerjan, VIB and University of Ghent (Belgium); John Ralph, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Xu Li, North Carolina State University; Claire Halpin and Gordon Simpson, University of Dundee (Scotland).

GCEP is an industry partnership that supports innovative research on energy technologies that address the challenge of global climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Based at Stanford, the project includes five corporate sponsors: ExxonMobil, GE, Schlumberger, DuPont and Bank of America.

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