Uploaded: Friday, September 14, 2012, 2:28 PM
Updated: Monday, September 17, 2012, 8:18 AM
Stanford funds early-stage energy research
Nine grants totalling $2.2 million awarded to researchers in engineering, psychology, business
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Small grants to Stanford University researchers in these areas are among nine -- with a total value of $2.2 million -- that have been awarded by Stanford's Precourt Institute for Energy, TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy and Precourt Energy Efficiency Center.
"We looked for projects where the investigators had moved into new areas of energy research for which the potential payoffs justified taking the risk associated with early-stage proposals," said Precourt Institute for Energy Director Lynn Orr, a professor of energy resources engineering and member of the selection committee.
The committee reviewed 30 proposals and awarded grants to researchers from an array of disciplines, including engineering, economics and psychology.
The Precourt Institute for Energy, the umbrella organization for energy research and education at Stanford, will fund the following four studies:
Nanostructured Polymers for High-Performance Batteries: A project exploring the use of specially designed nanostructured polymers to make high-energy, low-cost, flexible and stretchable batteries. The goal is to produce stable, high-capacity lithium-ion batteries and eventually develop novel all-polymer batteries at scale. Principal investigators are Zhenan Bao, professor of chemical engineering, and Yi Cui, associate professor of materials science and engineering and photon science.
Ultrathin Light Absorbers for Solar Cells: A project to dramatically reduce the thickness of light-absorbing layers in solar cells. The goal of this project is to develop novel, light-trapping nanomaterials that reduce the absorber layer thickness 100-fold compared to conventional thin film solar cells. The proposed concept could dramatically reduce solar cell manufacturing costs, according to the researchers. Principal investigators are Stacey Bent, professor of chemical engineering, and Mark Brongersma, associate professor of materials science and engineering.
Splitting Water at High Temperatures: A project to find ways of using sunlight to split water into oxygen and clean-burning hydrogen fuel. Most solar-driven water-splitting experiments are conducted at room temperature. The long-term goal of this project is to develop a water-splitting device that operates at high temperatures (up to 400 C), dramatically improving solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiencies. Principal investigators are William Chueh, assistant professor of materials science, and Nick Melosh, associate professor of materials science and engineering.
Hybrid Materials for Reversible Capture of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide: A project to develop a low-cost technique for capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide using organic-inorganic hybrid materials. The researchers propose using copper and other metals to make synthetic materials with electronic properties that enable the controlled capture and release of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Principal investigator is Hemamala Karunadasa, assistant professor of chemistry.
The Precourt Energy Efficiency Center (PEEC) will fund three projects that focus on how consumers make decisions when buying cars, appliances and light bulbs.
"Taken together, these studies should advance our understanding of how to overcome the barriers to energy-conscious decisions and behaviors, which sometimes have financial -- as well as environmental -- benefits," said PEEC Director Jim Sweeney, professor of management science and engineering.
Experiments with Appliance Choice: A project to examine whether some groups of consumers alter their decision-making process when buying major household appliances due to behavioral nudges, such as ecolabeling. The study will characterize consumer classes and monitor neural activity in each group via brain imaging with functional magnetic resonance imaging. Observations of shifts in the manner of decision processing would imply a need to reassess policies for behavioral nudges. Current policy design assumes that nudges do not alter the decision-making process a consumer employs, for example, switching attention from financial to environmental concerns. Principal investigator is Brian Knutson, associate professor of psychology.
Promoting Sustainable Vehicles: Will drivers buy more environmentally friendly vehicles in response to information about present benefits rather than future environmental gains? If so, such informational programs could be far less expensive than tax breaks and far more feasible politically than a carbon tax. In this controlled study, researchers will supplement not very useful sticker information with operating cost comparisons with comparable cars, and bundling the cost of the car with the cost of operating it. Principal investigator is Jonathan Levav, associate professor of marketing at the Graduate School of Business.
The Dynamic Effects of the Light Bulb Ban: A project to help determine the role for government policy in spurring innovation. New regulations effectively ban incandescent light bulbs in much of the world. Does the new prominence of lighting alternatives -- compact fluorescent, LED, halogen incandescent -- cause consumers to consider not only immediate prices but long-term costs? On the producer side, did the current spurt in lighting innovation require the new regulations? Was manufacturer inertia due purely to consumer inattention? Principal investigators are Mar Reguant-Rido, assistant professor of economics at the Graduate School of Business and Lanier Benkard, professor of economics at the Graduate School of Business.
The TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy will support two projects in transportation and electricity.
"The two projects hold major promise in advancing transportation and electricity, not only toward more sustainable models, but also in ways that seek the best economic outcomes," said TomKat Center Director Stacey Bent, professor of chemical engineering.
"Wireless charging of moving cars may seem fanciful, but it could make more sense in the long term when you consider all of the energy used by carrying more batteries."
Wireless Power Transfer to a Moving Vehicle: In a follow-up to an earlier study, the researchers will test the feasibility of using magnetic resonance technology to transmit electricity from roads to moving vehicles. The long-term goal is to develop roadways that wirelessly charge electric cars and trucks cruising at highway speeds. The proposed technology has the potential of dramatically increasing the driving range of electric vehicles and transforming highway travel. Principal investigator is Shanhui Fan, professor of electrical engineering.
Reliability vs. Cost Tradeoffs in California Renewable Energy Investments: A project to quantify the added costs of serving California's electricity demand with an increasing share of intermittent renewable generation, such as wind and solar energy. The analysis will account for the major drivers of these costs, such as backup generation resources, large energy storage systems, active demand-side participation and alternatives, such as transmission upgrades and changes in how the system is operated. The research also will assess managing intermittency under different wholesale power market rules and different mechanisms for financial support of renewables. Principal investigators are Frank Wolak, professor of economics, and Burton Richter, emeritus professor in the physical sciences and former director of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.
Additional support for the 2012 seed grants was provided by the Precourt Energy Fund, the Schmidt Family Foundation and the Stinehart/Reed Donor Advised Fund.
— Palo Alto Weekly staff
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