Materials faculty part of two new DOE Energy Frontier Research Centers

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Five faculty of Penn State’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MatSE) are members of research teams selected for two recently funded Energy Frontier Research Centers. The awards, announced on August 25, are part of a $540 million US Department of Energy (DOE) initiative to invest in clean energy technologies and low-carbon manufacturing to help the US achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 .

“Meeting the Biden-Harris administration’s ambitious climate and clean energy goals will require a pioneering commitment to clean energy — and that starts with researchers across the country,” said US Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “The research projects announced today will strengthen the science base needed for the United States to maintain global leadership in clean energy innovation, from renewable energy to carbon management.”

More than $400 million of funding will support the establishment and maintenance of 43 Energy Frontier Research Centers that bring together multidisciplinary scientific teams to address the toughest scientific challenges preventing advances in energy technologies.

Susan Sinnott, Department Head and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, will serve as Associate Director for the Fast and Cooperative Ion Transport in Polymer-Based Electrolytes (FaCT) EFRC. It will receive $11.5 million over four years to focus on polymer electrolytes for next-generation energy storage devices such as fuel cells and solid-state batteries for electric vehicles.

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“The collaborative research taking place under FaCT will advance the fundamental science of ion and proton transport in new solid-state electrolyte materials,” said Sinnott. “This advance promises to enable safer and longer-lasting batteries for electronic devices and other applications.”

The center is led by DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and other Penn State faculty include Ralph Colby and Michael Hickner, both professors of materials science and engineering and chemical engineering, and Wesley Reinhart, assistant professor of materials science and engineering and Institute for Rent Computational and Data Sciences.

FaCT also includes faculty from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Texas A&M University, the University of California, Santa Barbara, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Georgia State University.

Ismaila Dabo, Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, is part of the research team of the second EFRC, Center for Electrochemical Dynamics and Reactions on Surfaces (CEDARS). Led by North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, it will receive $10.35 million over four years to focus on splitting hydrogen and oxygen from water to produce clean hydrogen for energy use .

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In addition to Penn State, CEDARS also includes faculty from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cornell University, Colorado University at Boulder, and the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Penn State directs two of the 43 ERFCs: Three-Dimensional Ferroelectric Microelectronics (3DFeM) and the Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation (CLSF). Penn State also has 21 faculty on one or more EFRC research teams, including 11 affiliated with MatSE.

3DFeM is led by Susan Trolier-McKinstry, Evan Pugh University Professor and Flaschen Professor of Ceramic Science and Engineering. 3DFeM takes on the non-von Neumann challenge to drive radical advances in microelectronic devices, circuits, and systems. The goal of 3DFeM is to enable a million-fold improvement in the connection between memory and logic while significantly reducing the energy costs for computation. 3DFeM is in its third year of funding.

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CLSF is led by Daniel Cosgrove, the Eberly Chair and Professor of Biology. The focus of CLSF is to develop an understanding of nano- to mesoscale cell walls, the high-energy structural material in plants, and the physical mechanisms of wall assembly to form the basis of new sustainable energy technologies and novel biomaterials. CLSF has been continuously funded since the start of the ERFC program in 2009.

The DOE’s EFRC program has become a key research modality in the department’s portfolio, enabling high-impact research that addresses key scientific challenges for energy technologies. The EFRCs are funded by the Office of Science’s Basic Energy Sciences program and are located in the United States. They are led by universities, national laboratories and private research institutions. These multi-disciplinary, multi-researcher centers bring together world-class research teams, often from multiple institutions.

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