Stanford's energy institute funds its first round of research

The Precourt Institute for Energy (PIE) at Stanford University has handed out its first research grants, totaling $1.8 million in seed funding. The money will help support six research projects with the potential for high impact in the areas of energy supply and use. 

Stanford faculty members from a range of disciplines are leading the efforts.

"We asked our faculty for proof-of-concept experiments or analyses," said PIE Director Lynn Orr. "The objective is to allow our talented students and faculty to demonstrate the feasibility of energy innovations in a way that can help them compete for additional research funds."

The six projects address a spectrum of issues, including how to convert carbon dioxide to fuel, how to handle the fluctuations in electricity generated from intermittent renewable resources such as wind and how to improve the efficiency of solar cells while reducing costs.

Launched in January 2009, PIE is an independent institute at Stanford engaged in a broad, interdisciplinary program of energy research and education. It addresses the challenges of supplying energy in environmentally and economically acceptable ways, using it efficiently and tackling the social and policy issues involved in creating new energy systems for the United States and the world.

The six projects funded this year are:

Turning Papers into Supercapacitors for Grid-Scale Energy Storage, led by Yi Cui, materials science and engineering, and Zhenan Bao, chemical engineering, with research collaborator Seung Min Han, materials science and engineering.

Development of a New High-Temperature Proton Exchange Membrane for Fuel Cells, led by Curtis Frank, chemical engineering, and Michael Toney, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Potentially Low-Cost Technology for Crystalline III-V Thin-Film High-Efficiency Solar Cells, led by James Plummer, electrical engineering.

Stimulation Prediction Models in Enhanced Geothermal Systems, led by Roland Horne, energy resources engineering, and David Pollard, geological and environmental sciences.

Nanocomposite Metal/Oxide/Semiconductor Anodes for Oxidation of Water: Solar Fuels, led by Paul McIntyre, materials science and engineering, and Christopher Chidsey, chemistry.

Surface-Modified Conductive Metal Oxides for Carbon Dioxide Reduction Catalysis, led by Matthew Kanan, chemistry.

These research awards were supported by the generosity of Jay Precourt, the Schmidt Family Foundation and the Stinehart/Reed Donor Advised Fund.

"The PIE award supports our effort to transform conductive metal oxides into efficient catalysts that reduce carbon dioxide to hydrocarbon fuels," said Kanan. "The lack of effective carbon dioxide reduction catalysts has long been a major obstacle to viable solar fuel production. We're thrilled to have the resources to pursue this goal aggressively."

"It was extremely difficult to choose among so many good proposals for interesting research," said Orr. "Each of the projects selected has the potential to provide new directions for energy research at Stanford and beyond."

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