Stanford's GCEP awards $10.5 million for research on renewable energy

Stanford scientists and an international research group receive funding to advance solar cells, batteries, renewable fuels and bioenergy.

Mark Shwartz/Precourt Institute for Energy Bao and Cui

Stanford scientists Zhenan Bao and Yi Cui will use their GCEP award to design self-healing polymers for use in batteries.

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. The funding will be shared by six Stanford research teams and an international group from the United States and Europe.

"The seven projects funded by GCEP could spark discoveries that lead to dramatic improvements in energy storage, solar cells and renewable biofuels," said GCEP Director Sally Benson, a professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford. "I'm delighted to add that many of the scientists who received funding for these innovative projects will be featured speakers at our 2014 GCEP Research Symposium in October."

The seven awards bring the total number of GCEP-supported research programs to 117 since the project's launch in 2002.  In total, GCEP has awarded approximately $161 million to researchers at Stanford and 40 other institutions worldwide.

Matt BeardsleyWilliam Chueh

William Chueh, a fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy, will study solar-to-fuel conversion efficiency in photo-electrochemical cells.

"These awards demonstrate GCEP's continued commitment to advancing cutting- edge research in energy," said GCEP management committee member Steven Freilich, director of materials science at DuPont Central Research & Development. "As a science company, DuPont believes that collaboration enhances our power to innovate.  Programs like GCEP help build the great working relationships between scientists and engineers at universities, companies and government institutions that are required to develop innovative solutions for people everywhere."

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.

Registration is required for the GCEP Research Symposium, "Moving the Clean Energy Agenda Forward," on Oct. 14-15, at Stanford's Arrillaga Alumni Center.

Mark Shwartz writes about energy technology for the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University.

Mark Shwartz, Precourt Institute for Energy: (650) 723-9296,

Dan Stober, Stanford News Service: (650) 721-6965,

Sally Benson, GCEP: (650) 725-0358,