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GCEP efforts spin-off into major cleantech research centers

September 25, 2012

BY MARK SHWARTZ

Many of the exciting discoveries and technologies developed at GCEP have blossomed into large-scale research programs at Stanford and other leading institutions. In this section, we feature several follow-on projects with deep roots in GCEP, including four new research centers sponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

JACP logoJoint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP)
JCAP is the largest U.S. research program dedicated to the development of artificial solar fuel technology. Established in 2010 with a five-year, $122 million grant from the DOE, JCAP's goal is to find cost-effective ways to produce hydrogen and other clean-burning fuels using only sunlight, water and carbon dioxide (CO2).

Based at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., JCAP brings together more than 120 scientists and engineers from Caltech and its lead partner, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The center is led by Caltech Professor Nate Lewis, a former GCEP research theme leader in solar energy. In 2007, Lewis and several Caltech colleagues received a three-year GCEP award to develop a photoconversion system that uses sunlight to split water into oxygen and hydrogen.

"The work sponsored by GCEP was really the underpinning of what became the foundations of JCAP," Lewis said. "[GCEP] allowed us to take our concepts in the early stages and start to see ways to reduce them to practice and make them real. Then when we had this tangible outcome, we could leverage that into an entire DOE center devoted to expanding, developing and building on a technology that was at its inception really created with GCEP support."


CNEEC logoCenter on Nanostructuring for Efficient Energy Conversion (CNEEC)
Established at Stanford in 2009, CNEEC's goal is to increase the efficiency of energy conversion devices by manipulating materials at the nanometer scale. The center is supported by a five-year, $20 million grant from the DOE.

CNEEC is led by Stanford engineering Professors Fritz Prinz and Stacey Bent, past recipients of GCEP research grants. According to Prinz, the findings that resulted from his GCEP program on photosynthesis played a crucial role in establishing the new DOE center. "There is no doubt about it, CNEEC has its origin in GCEP," he said.


CURENT logo

Center for Ultra-wide-area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT)
Headquartered at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, CURENT seeks to develop a continent-wide transmission grid that is dynamically controlled for high efficiency, high reliability, low cost and better accommodation of renewable energy sources. CURENT was launched in 2011 with a five-year, $18.5 million investment from NSF and DOE.

The center is led by UT Professor Kevin Tomsovic, principal investigator on a GCEP-funded effort to integrate solar, wind and other renewables into the electric grid. The GCEP program also includes investigators from Northeastern University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which have since joined the CURENT partnership with UT. The work done at GCEP helped the researchers compete successfully for NSF/DOE funding, Tomsovic said, adding that the new center "will allow us to more fully evaluate the concepts developed [at GCEP]."


BAPVCBay Area Photovoltaic Consortium (BAPVC)

Established in 2011 with a five-year, $25 million award from DOE, BAPVC is an industry-supported program led by Stanford and the University of California-Berkeley to dramatically reduce the installed price of utility-scale photovoltaic systems by 2020. "Our goal is to develop low-cost solar cells that can go into production within the decade," said John Benner, BAPVC executive director.

The consortium includes several GCEP researchers, including BAPVC co-director Yi Cui, a Stanford engineering professor; and the BAPVC executive board includes GCEP corporate sponsors, GE and DuPont. "GCEP had a big role in producing the culture that prompted the BAPVC to be conceived and proposed in the first place," Benner explained.


SCCS LogoStanford Center for Carbon Storage (SCCS)
" About 60 percent of the world's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions come from power plants, refineries and other industries," said GCEP Director Sally Benson, a professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford. 'One way to significantly curb global warming is to capture CO2 from industrial smokestacks and store the emissions in geologic formations thousands of feet below the surface."

For large-scale CO2 storage and sequestration to become a reality, a broad range of fundamental scientific questions must be addressed. To meet that challenge, Benson and her colleagues in the Stanford School of Earth Sciences established SCCS, a scientific collaboration that investigates key questions relating to CO2 sequestration in saline aquifers; shale and coal formations; and mature or depleted oil and gas reservoirs.

Building on the successful CO2 storage research undertaken by Benson and nearly two-dozen other GCEP-sponsored investigators, SCCS scientists have adopted a multidisciplinary approach to tackle critical scientific issues relating to sequestration.

 

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