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Frontiers in
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July 2014

New EFRC Awards Announced

$100 million to support 32 centers in the next 4 years for energy research

Marina Faiella

Thirty-two centers will help lay the scientific groundwork for fundamental advances in solar energy, electrical energy storage, carbon capture and sequestration, materials and chemistry by design, biosciences, and extreme environments.

In June 2014, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced the awarding of $100 million for Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) to accelerate the scientific breakthroughs needed to build the 21st-century energy economy.

The EFRC program will help fuel scientific and technological innovation. "Today, we are mobilizing some of our most talented scientists to join forces and pursue the discoveries and breakthroughs that will lay the foundation for our nation’s energy future," said Moniz.

A total of 32 centers led by universities, national laboratories, and nonprofit organizations will help lay the scientific groundwork for fundamental advances in solar energy, electrical energy storage, carbon capture and sequestration, materials and chemistry by design, biosciences, and extreme environments.

Ten of these centers are new, while the others were created in 2009, when a first round of the program enabled fundamental advances in energy production, storage, and use. The successful results obtained to date are highlighted by the 5,400 peer-reviewed scientific publications and hundreds of inventions at various stages of the patent process developed by all the centers. Also, research from the EFRCs has aided large and small firms, including start-up companies. These are important numbers that can easily explain why the U.S. Department of Energy selected 32 centers to receive from $2 million to $4 million per year per center for up to four fiscal years.

Impressive achievements are expected for this second round, thanks not only to the groundbreaking projects, but also because these multi-institution, multi-investigator centers are encouraged to work together.

"The same scientific achievements could not be made if people were funded individually and did not work together on a common theme," said Laura Gagliardi, director of one of the new EFRC centers, Inorganometallic Catalyst Design Center (ICDC). “Moreover, I think that these centers will foster the growth of the next generation of scientists. We must train Ph.D. students and postdocs to do their research as parts of a team. This is the future of science moving forward.”

In the centers, interconnected research groups combine different disciplines, as well as fundamental science, with technology transfer to address today's energy challenges. Indeed, all these teams will work on how to best supply and use the energy in our society. They will do that through the synthesis of innovative materials or through the study of solar-driven processes, as well as by converting biomass into fuels or by testing nanomaterials as a new generation of powerful and long-lasting batteries.

Dionisios Vlachos, director of the already established Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation (CCEI), explained: "The transformation from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewables-driven and sustainable society will require the predictive design and development of new materials. This can be accomplished by exploring, understanding, and harnessing the quantum mechanical underpinnings of fundamental chemical processes and physical phenomena."

As in the first round, the EFRCs will surely have a major impact on the economy and the environment of the United States, as they will accelerate the discovery of radical, new technologies for the generation, conversion, storage, and use of energy and fuels.

About the author(s):

  • Marina Faiella. A member of the Center for Bio-Inspired Solar Fuel Production (BISfuel) and a L’Óreal-UNESCO fellow, Marina is a postdoctoral fellow working on biofuel production by using engineered proteins and de novo designed peptides. In particular, she uses peptide synthesis and protein expression methodologies, as well as spectroscopic techniques, to mimic the active site of natural hydrogenases into smaller systems, with the final aim of producing hydrogen.

Disclaimer: The opinions in this newsletter are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views or position of the Department of Energy.