CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University experts hope to develop some of the solar energy technology of the future in a new Energy Frontier Research Center announced today by the U.S. Department of Energy and the White House – a $777 million initiative to create breakthrough technology for a 21st-century energy economy.
As part of that effort, researchers in the College of Engineering and College of Science at OSU will receive a five-year, $3 million grant to help form a “Center for Inverse Design.” This innovative concept uses theory and computation along with other experimental methods to more rapidly identify the advanced materials that can make solar power less costly and more efficient.
The Department of Energy announced today that it is setting up 46 such centers at universities, national laboratories and other research agencies around the nation, as part of the funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Work will take place in diverse fields, ranging from solar energy to electricity storage, biofuels, andvanced nuclear systems, carbon sequestration and other areas.
“Our work with inverse design will be somewhat the opposite of traditional science, where you might invent or discover something and then look for an application,” said John Wager, an OSU professor of electrical engineering. “The idea is to start with the ideal of what you want, such as a solar cell that’s 20 percent efficient. Then you ask what kind of materials, atomic structure, even construction methods it would take to achieve that.”
OSU experts, including Douglas Keszler, a distinguished professor of chemistry, will collaborate in their new center with researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Northwestern University, and Stanford University. In particular, this approach will tap into the power of sophisticated computers and advanced computational ability.
“This is one of the grand challenges that has been identified in engineering, to bring the theorists and the experimentalists together,” Wager said. “Some members of our group will work mostly on the theory of what we want and at OSU we’ll do some of the advanced material science research that will help keep us grounded in reality. Hopefully we’ll meet somewhere in the middle with some powerful new technology we can actually build.”
More than 260 applications from around the nation competed to receive one of these new Energy Frontier Research Centers.
“We are particularly interested in tapping the imagination and creativity of the scientific community to address the fundamental questions of how nature works and to harness this new knowledge for some of our most critical real-world challenges,” Department of Energy officials said in a statement released today.
Continued funding after the initial five-year period is anticipated, federal officials said.
OSU has a wide range of new and alternative energy research initiatives under way, including efforts in new nuclear technology, less costly production of hydrogen for use in hydrogen fuel cells, wave energy, more advanced solar energy through the use of transparent electronics, and other programs.
OSU researchers working on this project are also associated with the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute, as well as the Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center.