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Two Energy Frontier Research Centers at Northwestern

April 29, 2009 | by Megan Fellman
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University will be home to two of the 46 new multi-million-dollar Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. DOE plans to fund the Northwestern centers at a level of $19 million each over a five-year period.

In addition to the Northwestern centers, University researchers also will be involved in collaborations with six other EFRCs, including two based at Argonne National Laboratory. Preliminary estimates show this could provide Northwestern with additional funding of up to $12 million, bringing total EFRC funding at the University to more than $50 million, according to the Office for Research.

The White House made the announcement April 27 in conjunction with a speech delivered by President Barack Obama at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences. The EFRCs, which will pursue advanced scientific research on energy, are being established at universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations and private firms across the nation.

Professor Michael Wasielewski will lead the EFRC that will be part of the existing Argonne-Northwestern Solar Energy Research (ANSER) Center, a center that is one of several ever-strengthening links between Northwestern and Argonne. This EFRC's goal is to revolutionize the design, synthesis and control of molecules, materials and processes in order to dramatically improve conversion of sunlight into electricity and fuels.

Researchers will address the basic solar energy conversion steps of charge photogeneration, separation and recombination, as well as charge and energy transfer among molecules, across interfaces and through nanostructured architectures. The center will focus on the science needed to create integrated molecular systems for artificial photosynthesis, to control interfacial processes critical in organic photovoltaics, and to enable three-dimensional nanostructured materials organization for solar fuels and hybrid photovoltaics.

Wasielewski says the EFRC plans to have collaborations with scientists at Argonne, where the Advanced Photon Source and the Center for Nanoscale Materials will play an important role. Other collaborators will include the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois and Yale University.

Wasielewski is professor of chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and director of ANSER.

Associate Professor Bartosz Grzybowski will lead the new Center for Integrated Training in Far-From-Equilibrium and Adaptive Materials. Its focus will be to synthesize, characterize and understand new classes of materials under conditions far from equilibrium that are relevant to solar energy conversion, catalysis and storage of electricity and hydrogen.

The EFRC will combine new research on non-equilibrium systems with nanoscale materials science. The combination of theory, simulations and experimentation will allow center researchers to develop materials that are not only structurally robust but also have the ability to change and optimize their performance in response to environmental stimuli. Collaborations are planned with scientists at the University of Michigan and Harvard University.

Grzybowski is associate professor of chemical and biological engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and associate professor of chemistry in Weinberg.

Peter Stair, professor of chemistry, will serve as deputy director of the Institute for Atom-Efficient Chemical Transformations, based at Argonne. That EFRC's mission is to discover, understand and control efficient chemical pathways for the conversion of coal and biomass into chemicals and fuels.

"These centers will mobilize the enormous talents and skills of our nation's scientific workforce in pursuit of the breakthroughs that are essential to make alternative and renewable energy truly viable as large-scale replacements for fossil fuels," said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.

The 46 EFRCs were selected from a pool of some 260 applications received in response to a solicitation issued by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science in 2008. Selection was based on a rigorous merit review process utilizing outside panels composed of scientific experts.
Topics: Research