Seed Fund Projects Focus on Clean Energy

In support of its mission to pursue the development of abundant and inexpensive energy sources that do not harm the environment, the University of Notre Dame's Energy Center has announced that three projects pursuing novel concepts in clean energy will be supported through the centers new Seed Fund program.

According to Joan F. Brennecke, center director and Keating-Crawford Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, the Seed Fund program sponsors early-stage research related to energy production, delivery and use.

The challenge for us all is to find solutions to energy that are clean, economically feasible and renewable for the long term, Brennecke said.The Energy Center, and these seed fund projects, actively address that challenge.

The first project,Toward Simulating Chemical and Photochemical Reactions for Clean Energy: Methodologies for the Solid-Aqueous Interface, is led by Steven A. Corcelli, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Corcelli and collaborators Kathie E. Newman, professor of physics, and William F. Schneider, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering are addressing the modern energy infrastructure, which is built around the extraction and refining of fossil fuels through gas-solid chemical reactions. They are working to contribute to a new set of chemical transformations, processes and materials by developing accurate and computationally efficient models that will predict chemical reactions at the solid-aqueous interface, a need highlighted in a recent report sponsored by the American Chemical Society, Department of Energy and National Science Foundation. Specifically, they will be studying the structure and reactivity of transition metal oxides in water as it relates to converting light into chemical energy.

Prashant V. Kamat, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Paul J. McGinn, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, are working to advance the fundamental understanding of solar hydrogen production. Offering huge potential as a plentiful source of clean, economical and transportable stored energy (fuel cells), the solar production of hydrogen from water-oxide mixed-phase systems does not yet offer efficient and environmentally safe conversion methods. This is what Kamat and McGinn are exploring.

During the course of the project, they will evaluate candidate oxide catalysts and methods, review photocatalytic properties and techniques and identify the best catalyst compositions in a photocatalyst membrane assembly for use in a fuel cell.

The third funded proposal, Graded Quantum Dot/Nanowire Heteroassemblies for Photovoltaic Applications, investigates the use of semiconductor nanostructures for solar energy conversion, with the ultimate goal of growing conductive substrates for a new generation of solar cells. Masaru K. Kuno, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Kamat are working to develop a new paradigm for the creation of low-cost, high-efficiency solar energy conversion from photovoltaics made of low-dimensional materials.

Since it was established in 2005, the Notre Dame Energy Center has been working to develop new technologies to meet the global energy challenge. Housed in the College of Engineering, the center focuses on five areas of expertise: energy efficiency, safe nuclear waste storage, clean coal utilization, renewable resources and carbon dioxide separation and storage. The center is also committed to playing key roles in energy education and literacy, the development of energy policy and the exploration of the ethical implications associated with energy.