Center for Sustainable Energy at Notre Dame

Notre Dame Energy Center

The Notre Dame Energy Center was established in 2005 under the auspices of the College of Engineering. It has remained an active College Center, focused on promoting and supporting energy related research, education and outreach intitiatives at Notre Dame, until 2011, when it was merged with the Sustainable Energy Initiative to form the Center for Sustainable Energy at Notre Dame (cSEND), a University Research Center focused on expanding the sustainable energy activities at Notre Dame through increased inter-college participation, accelerated research and educational productivity, enhanced visibility, and ensured long-term financial viability.

Table of Contents
Energy Center Mission
Areas of Research
Research Highlights
Student Research Projects
Course Development Grants
Seed Fund Program

Energy Center Mission

Developing abundant, inexpensive energy sources, when in use do not harm the environment, is arguably the greatest challenge facing civilization. The Notre Dame Energy Center is addressing this challenge with state-of-the-art research and education programs in energy efficiency; safe nuclear waste storage; clean coal utilization; CO2 separation, storage, sequestration and use; solar and other renewable energy; and the social, political, and ethical aspects of energy policy and use.

Areas of Research

Research within the Energy Center focuses on the following five main areas:

  1. Energy Efficiency: 

    While the global energy challenge cannot be solved solely by improvements in energy efficiency, major advances in this area are vital in both the short and long term. Development of fuel cells, which are inherently more efficient than combustion power cycles, fits in this category, as does energy efficient industrial separations and research on combined heat or refrigeration and power systems.

  2. Safe Nuclear Waste Storage:

    Nuclear fission will clearly play an important role worldwide, and may become more important here in the United States, as well. The key is developing the safest methods of nuclear waste storage, based on sound science in radionuclide compound identification, environmental interaction and mobility.

  3. Clean Coal Utilization:

    Coal is still relatively abundant worldwide, as well as in many places in the United States, including the State of Indiana. Yet burning of coal in power plants causes the formation of NOx and SOx, which result in acid rain if released to the atmosphere. Since the development of economical renewable energy sources is likely to take significant periods of research and development, it is almost inevitable that coal will become the energy and raw material resource of choice in the coming decades. The key is developing technologies for clean coal utilization. This may, for instance, involve coal gasification, followed by gas separation and use for both energy and as a chemical feedstock. Therefore, ND_E is placing an emphasis on the development of clean coal technologies.

  4. CO2 Separation, Storage, Sequestration, and Use:

    Responsible continued use of fossil fuels, whether it be oil, natural gas or coal, will require the capture and storage of CO2. While technologies exist at present, they represent too large an energy burden. Thus, ND_E is developing more energy efficient CO2 capture and sequestration technologies.

  5. Solar and Other Renewables:

    The only sustainable energy resources are renewables such as solar, biomass, wind, hydroelectric, wave, tide and geothermal. The most abundant of these is solar - 165,000 terawatts of energy impinge on the earth (compared with the 14 terawatts of energy used globally at present). The main challenges in harnessing solar energy, being addressed by ND researchers, are device efficiency and cost.

Research Highlights

Energy-related research highlighted in national and international publications

Anchoring Semiconductor and Metal Nanoparticles on a Two-Dimensional Catalyst Mat. Storing and Shuttling Electrons with Reduced Graphene Oxide

Ian V. Lightcap, Thomas H. Kosel and Prashant V. Kamat, Radiation Laboratory, Departments of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, and Electrical Engineering, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana 46556-0579
Highlighted in PHYSORG


ClimateWire <> An E&E Publishing Service
CARBON CAPTURE: Energy-saving process 'scrubs' emissions without
(Tuesday, August 18, 2009), Jessica Leber, E&E reporter

An Energy Department researcher has demonstrated a new way to reduce the high cost of capturing carbon dioxide from today's coal burners. Lab bench experiments show that a waterless liquid molecule could double the amount of CO2 absorbed by current water-based liquids in a scrubber and potentially halve the energy needed to then peel off the CO2 and recycle the liquid for another go-round. The process -- called "reversible acid gas capture" -- also works with sulfur dioxide and several other harmful pollutants that are in power plant waste streams, according to Dave Heldebrant, a senior research scientist at DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Heldebrant says the approach does away with a major downside of today's most feasible carbon capture option for existing power plants. For decades, natural gas plants have used amine-based solvents to remove acid gas contaminants, including CO2. Today, big coal-fired power producers such as Atlanta-based Southern Co. are piloting variations of the proven process to handle their smokestack emissions. But the method has an enormously expensive downside: It consumes about 30 percent of the energy produced by the power plant itself.

How to eliminate an energy hog

Normally, amines are used to bind with CO2 in the flue gas and then, in another chamber, are heated to strip off the CO2. That heat is one big energy hog. In this process, water is also needed as a solvent and to reduce the solution's corrosiveness. All that water, however, takes even more energy to heat and means that additional liquid must be pumped around -- increasing the "parasitic" energy demand of the capture process. Eliminating that water, as Heldebrant's organic chemical does, therefore reduces energy demand. "If you've ever watched a pot of water boil, it takes forever to get to temperature. But if you heat oil, it gets hot almost immediately," he said, explaining the theory behind the substitute. The reusable liquid could be deployed in the same carbon capture infrastructure now being tested for existing plants, and even in newly built plants that will rely on more advanced removal technologies, Heldebrant added. One pitfall, however, could be the cost of producing the chemical. Although it is commercially available today, it might cost as much as 10 times more than the most frequently used amine, known as MEA, according to Gary Rochelle, a chemical engineer at the University of Texas, Austin, who works with the amine capture process.

Light at the end of a long research tunnel?

"It is interesting work," said Rochelle. But, he said, because of the chemical's cost and potential real-world inefficiencies, "it's not likely to prove that it solves the problem." Heldebrant said that the initial high up-front cost could potentially be recouped if the material can be continually recycled with few losses. Still, he noted, a lot more testing is required to put hard numbers to the energy savings and economics of the entire process. He will present the results of his initial research today to the American Chemical Society. The next step is to increase the volumes in the lab and then to test the concept with real flue gas from a power plant. Heldebrant said he is now in discussions with chemical producers and power companies on how to scale up. Others are also taking a wait-and-see approach. "It's work that's very early in development, and so it's really hard to make any guesses as to whether it will work for the whole process," said Joan Brennecke, director of the University of Notre Dame Energy Center, noting that it is nearly impossible to eliminate water entirely, since water is in the flue gas itself. Brennecke is another of many researchers pushing forward technologies to reduce the high energy demand of carbon capture. Funded by a DOE grant, she has worked for several years on a liquid-salt-based capture method that also avoids water, though she estimated that it is also at least a decade away from reaching commercial scale. "The problem with all of this is that we need a solution today, and all of this is in the research stage," she said. "No matter what, it is going to be painful to do CO2 capture."


Photosensitization of TiO2 Nanostructures with CdS Quantum Dots: Particulate versus Tubular Support Architectures

David R. Baker 2, Prashant V. Kamat

Advanced Functional Materials Volume 19 Issue 5, pp 805 - 811
Abstract:  TiO2 nanotube arrays and particulate films are modified with CdS quantum dots with an aim to tune the response of the photoelectrochemical cell in the visible region. The method of successive ionic layer adsorption and reaction facilitates size control of CdS quantum dots. These CdS nanocrystals, upon excitation with visible light, inject electrons into the TiO2 nanotubes and particles and thus enable their use as photosensitive electrodes. Maximum incident photon to charge carrier efficiency (IPCE) values of 55% and 26% are observed for CdS sensitized TiO2 nanotube and nanoparticulate architectures respectively. The nearly doubling of IPCE observed with the TiO2 nanotube architecture is attributed to the increased efficiency of charge separation and transport of electrons.


Quantum Dot Solar Cells. Semiconductor Nanocrystals as Light Harvesters
Prashant V. Kamat, J. Phys. Chem. C, 2008, 112 (48), pp 18737–18753


Excited-State and Photoelectrochemical Behavior of Pyrene-Linked Phenyleneethynylene Oligomer†
Yoichiro Matsunaga, Kensuke Takechi, Takeshi Akasaka, A. R. Ramesh, P. V. James, K. George Thomas, and Prashant V. Kamat, J. Phys. Chem. B, 2008

An oligophenyleneethynylene (OPE), 1,4-bis(phenyleneethynyl)-2,5-bis(hexyloxy)benzene (2), is coupled with pyrene to extend the conjugation and allow its use as a light-harvesting molecule [Py-OPE (1)]. The absorption and emission maxima of 1 are red-shifted compared to those of 2. Similar differences in the singlet and triplet excited-state properties are evident. The fluorescence yield of 2 in toluene is 0.53, which is slightly less than the value for the parent OPE (2) of 0.66. The excited singlet and triplet of 1 as characterized from transient absorption spectroscopy exhibit lifetimes of 1.07 ns and 4.0 μs, respectively, in toluene. When 1was cast as a film on a glass electrode (OTE) and excited with a 387-nm laser pulse, we observed the formation of excitons that decayed within a few picoseconds. When 1 was cast as a film on a SnO2-modified conducting glass electrode (OTE/SnO2), a small fraction of excitons dissociated to produce a long-lived charge-separated state. The role of the SnO2 interface in promoting charge separation was inferred from the photoelectrochemical measurements. Under visible light excitation, the OTE/SnO2 electrode was capable of generating photocurrent (∼0.25 mA/cm2) with an incident photon conversion efficiency (IPCE) of ∼6%.


ACS Nano podcast and related article: TiO2-Graphene Nanocomposites. UV-Assisted Photocatalytic Reduction of Graphene Oxide, Graeme Williams,† Brian Seger, and Prashant V. Kamat


Monday, July 7, 2008
Photo reduction of Graphene Oxide with nano-TiO2

In the articles ASAP of ACS Nano, Williams et al., (from Prashant V. Kamat group - he is also the senior editor of Journal of Physical Chemistry) describes a neat way of reducing the o.6 nm thick graphene oxide with photo activated nano TiO2 (2-7 nm). Graphene is becoming very attractive to many and surely this is another example of that. In the picture, GO means graphene oxide and GR means graphene.


Student Research Projects

University National Park Energy Partnership Project

Students spent the summer of 2008 at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as part of a sponsored project between the UNPEPP (University National Park Energy Partnership Project) and the Notre Dame Energy Center. Students conducted energy audits, researched the benefits of creating a green roof, and recommended the installation of a ground-source heat pump. Students also created educational materials for posting in buildings around the park. Student researchers were: Thomas Furlong, Brian Klein, and Jackie Mirandola Mullen.
View Report .
View Video.

Lightning Riders

The Lightning Riders are students in the Department of Electrical Engineering who have focused their research on constructing a battery operated, hybrid motorcycle. Sponsors include the Notre Dame Energy Center. For more information, visit:

Course Development Grants 2007

The Energy Center accepted applications for funding from faculty and graduate students to develop new courses or to enhance existing courses to include energy-related topics and issues. Course development grants were awarded in 2007 totaling $6,500 to:

  • Robert Nerenberg, Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering and Gelogical Sciences, to redesign existing courses "Wastewater Design" and "Environmental Biotechnology" to incorporate energy efficiency, renewable energy production, and carbon sequestration.
  • John Simon, graduate student in Electrical Engineering, under the direction of Alan Seabaugh, to develop a new course "Electrical Energy Extraction" focusing on teaching the physics of energy conversion devices.
  • Alexandre Chapeaux, graduate student in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, under the direction of Angela Miller McGraw, to develop the seminar "Energy Policy, the Environment, and Social Change" focusing on the scientific, environmental, economic, geopolitical, and social implications of current energy technologies.

Seed Fund Program

In spring 2008, the Notre Dame Energy Center announced a Request for Proposals for its newly established Seed Fund Program. The program was designed to support innovative, early-stage, research projects that would address energy-related issues and lead to externally sponsored research projects. Proposals were selected based on scientific importance, novelty of the ideas, potential impact, and the extent to which the proposed work would complement ongoing energy research at Notre Dame. Of the seven proposals submitted, three were approved and funded for a total of $113,300 in seed grants. The recipients are as follows:

Steven Corcelli (Chemistry and Biochemistry), Kathie Newman (Physics), and William Schneider (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering), “Towards Simulating Chemical and Photochemical Reactions for Clean Energy: Methodologies for the Solid-Aqueous Interface,” 09/01/08 – 08/31/09.  The long-term goal of this project is to develop, validate, and apply computational efficient theoretical models to predict the structure and reactivity of transition metal oxides in contact with water.

Prashant Kamat (Chemistry and Biochemistry) and Paul McGinn (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering), “Catalysts by Design. Semiconductor Nanocomposites for Solar Hydrogen Production,” 01/01/09 – 12/30/10. Solar hydrogen production from water-oxide mixed-phase systems has considerable potential as a source of clean, cheap, and transportable stored energy. The proposed work will greatly advance fundamental understanding of the production of hydrogen at the interface of water with newly developed metal oxide interfaces.

Ken Kuno and Prashant Kamat (Chemistry and Biochemistry), “Graded Quantum Dot/nanowire Heteroassemblies for Photovoltaics,” 07/01/08 – 06/30/09. This proposal aims to investigate the potential use of graded NW/QD heteroassemblies for efficient solar energy conversion with the ultimate goal of growing electronically graded NWs on flexible conductive substrates to enable the development of conformal NW-based solar cells.