The Center for Electrochemistry (CEC) at The University of Texas at Austin has received a $5 million grant from the Houston-based Welch Foundation to start the Renewable Energy Initiative (REI), a multi-disciplinary, collaborative effort to promote advances in renewable energy technologies.
The initiative, says CEC Director Dr. Allen Bard, has three central research thrusts.
One project is devoted to developing new kinds of photovoltaic and photoelectrochemical materials that could eventually make solar power competitive with fossil fuels.
Another project will deal with the challenges of creating better batteries that can store energy over long periods of time. Such storage is needed to maximize the utility of renewable energy sources, such as wind farms and solar panels that intermittently generate electricity.
The last project will explore the fundamental chemistry of electrocatalysts, with an eye toward developing better catalysts for fuel cells and water electrolysis.
"These are three pivotal problems in electrochemical science and engineering," says Bard, the Norman Hackerman-Welch Regents Chair in Chemistry. "Advances in any one of these areas could produce significant benefit to society."
With funding from the three-year grant, says Bard, the CEC will be able to fund graduate and postdoctoral fellows, equip new facilities with the latest electrochemical instrumentation, bring world-renowned scholars to campus, organize conferences and award seed grants to faculty who are doing potentially paradigm-shifting research in electrochemical science.
"The Welch funding truly enables the collaborative, high risk and high-reward research that is needed to catalyze new discoveries for next-generation renewable energy technologies," he says.
The Welch Foundation grant is part of a larger, longer-term vision to establish an Institute for Green Chemistry and Sustainability at The University of Texas at Austin. The institute would help push the university to the forefront of electrochemical research into the development of technologies such as fuel cells, solar energy and electrical energy storage.
The CEC was established in 2006 to capitalize on a half century of excellence in the field of electrochemistry at The University of Texas at Austin. The center is committed to expanding fundamental knowledge in this area, investigating problems of vital interest to the global community and helping develop applications that will benefit society.
Key faculty members active in electrochemical research include chemistry professors Bard, Richard Crooks and Keith Stevenson, and engineering professors Arumugam Manthiram and Jeremy Meyers. Eleven other faculty members with expertise in materials, polymers, chemical synthesis and physical characterization techniques are also associated with the center.