Element 8 Member Meetings

Accredited Investors interested in membership in Element 8 are invited to participate as a guest in one meeting per year. If you’re interested in membership and would like to attend an upcoming meeting please email info@element8angels.com.


CleanTech Alliance Breakfast Series

The CleanTech Alliance Breakfast Series is your opportunity to rub elbows with distinguished cleantech executives from across Washington State, the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Presented by Perkins Coie, join 100 cleantech industry leaders for a monthly conversation featuring a tremendous lineup of distinguished speakers.

Each event is held on the second Wednesday of each month (7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m.) from September 2016 through May 2017 (except November, which is reserved for the CleanTech Alliance Annual Meeting).

For more information and to register for the events, visit the CleanTech Alliance website.



A New Battery for Grid-Scale Energy Storage

Shanyu Wang (left) and Mengyu Yan (right), pictured with the x-ray diffractometer (XRD) located at CEI’s Washington Clean Energy Testbeds

UW materials scientists make breakthrough in study of alternative to lithium-ion

January 23, 2018

The lithium-ion batteries found in smartphones, power tools, and electric cars are small and lightweight, but the technology is generally considered to be infeasible for energy storage at a much larger scale. The typical cathode material (lithium cobalt oxide) is expensive and susceptible to overheating, and the electrolyte (dimethyl carbonate) is highly flammable. If these batteries are overcharged or are physically damaged, there can be explosive consequences. To circumvent these issues and develop batteries that can store energy at the utility scale, battery researchers have been focusing on models that use earth-abundant elements and water-based electrolytes.

University of Washington materials science & engineering (MSE) researchers have made a breakthrough in understanding the mechanics of a zinc-ion, aqueous-electrolyte model. This alternative technology is lower in energy density than lithium-ion batteries, with 30 times the power density. Jihui Yang, the Kyocera associate professor of MSE and MSE department chair, said that the research “points to a high-performance, low-cost, safe, and environmentally-friendly battery, ideal for grid energy storage.”

Mengyu Yan, a Washington Research Foundation (WRF) Innovation Postdoctoral Fellow and the lead author of the study published in Advanced Materials, and Shanyu Wang, also a postdoctoral researcher in Yang’s group, created the cathode by growing vanadium pentoxide (V2O5) nanowires on graphene.

Scanning-mode electron microscope image of bare graphene sheets (a) and as-prepared V2O5 nanowires, after liquid-phase deposition onto the graphene (b)


The resulting vanadium oxide-graphene (VOG) material was found to contain water molecules within the layers of the structure, like the frosting of a layer cake.

Artist’s representation depicting structural water molecules within crystalline V2O5 layers

The existence of these water molecules is key to optimizing the mechanism of charge and discharge.

During charge and discharge, zinc ions intercalate between the VOG cathode layers. Intercalation – reversible insertion and de-insertion, through chemical processes – is a vital design element of the majority of rechargeable battery technologies, including the lithium-ion model. The major finding of the UW researchers was a curious “lubricating” phenomenon that takes place during intercalation. The aforementioned water molecules found within the VOG increase interlayer distance, and also form weakly-bonded “shields” around the zinc ions, reducing their effective charges and thus their attraction to oxygen atoms within VOG crystals.

Artist’s representation depicting interlayer gap and shielding effects of water molecules during Zn intercalation

When the structural water molecules were removed by annealing VOG at 350°C, both peak performance and performance over multiple cycles dropped significantly. High rates of intercalation result in faster power transfer and longer battery lifetimes, which are primary concerns of grid-scale battery engineers.

The research benefited from a partnership with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), located in Richland, WA. PNNL is a leading member of Battery500, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) program that involves multiple national labs and research universities, which lead author Yan said was vital to the project:

“Battery500 members shared important information about the latest battery technologies and their potential uses. In this case, zinc-based models were promising for grid-scale use. As well, we were able to rely on the advanced NMR [nuclear magnetic resonance] instrumentation and expert technicians at PNNL to help us collect and interpret data.”

Both Yan and Wang feel optimistic about the future of the technology, but highlighted different areas for advancement. Wang shared his views on the developments needed to get a zinc-ion battery on the market:

“We now understand the physics of this model, so we’re excited about applying our understanding of water’s role in intercalation to other types of battery technologies. While vanadium is cheap, it’s relatively toxic, so we will try different materials like manganese oxide. We could also try different polar solvents instead of water, to try and further improve efficiency. Graphene is a great material for studying [the intercalation mechanism], but it makes this particular prototype too expensive for a grid scale, so we need to explore a different material.”

Yan was excited about the potential for “further cooperation with PNNL to reduce the price, such that this technology could be implemented for grid-scale energy storage.”

Along with the NMR data collected at PNNL, the researchers utilized CEI’s Washington Clean Energy Testbeds to perform x-ray diffraction (XRD), cyclic voltammetry (CV), and scanning-mode electron microscopy (SEM). The characterization-focused facility allowed Yan and Wang to collect information about the crystal structure and electrochemical properties of their device.

Yan earned his Ph.D. in materials science and technology at Wuhan University of Technology (Wuhan, China), where he was supervised by Liqiang Mai, the chair professor of materials science. Their relationship has continued to be fruitful, as Mai and his research group contributed to discussions of the particulars of the intercalation model, analysis of electrochemical data (cyclic voltammetry, energy density, and power density), and authorship of the Advanced Materials paper.

Co-authors of the paper include Dr. Ying Chen, Dr. Yuyan Shao, Dr. Karl. T. Mueller, and Dr. Jun Liu at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Pan He, Dr. Qiulong Wei, Kangning Zhao, Dr. Xu Xu, Prof. Qinyou An, Yi Shuang, and Prof. Liqiang Mai of Wuhan University of Technology.

For more information, contact Dr. Yan at myyan@uw.edu and Professor Yang at jihuiy@uw.edu.

UW, Tsinghua Researchers Explore Challenges and Opportunities for Smart, Renewable Energy Grids

UW professors Zhang (second from left) and Kirschen (third from right), with Tsinghua University professors Zhang (far left), Kang (third from left), Chen (second from right), and Zhu (far right).

January 2, 2018

University of Washington electrical engineering professors and CEI member faculty Daniel Kirschen and Baosen Zhang hosted faculty from Tsinghua University (Beijing, China) for a symposium on smart energy systems on December 8, 2017. The Tsinghua group was led by Chongqing Kang, professor of electrical engineering and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Department.

Brian Johnson presenting on novel modeling techniques for networks within low-inertia power systems

“Our two groups have collaborated for a number of years because we have a common interest in developing tools and techniques that support the operation and development of a sustainable, economic, and reliable supply of electrical energy,” Kirschen said.

At the symposium, Brian Johnson, who will join UW electrical engineering as Washington Research Foundation (WRF) Innovation Assistant Professor of Clean Energy in spring 2018 from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), described novel modeling techniques for networks within low-inertia power systems. As large conventional power plants are replaced with small energy generators, the inertia of the system – its ability to handle fluctuation in supply and demand of power – decreases. Each individual generator requires its own DC-to-AC inverter, so the grid becomes exponentially more complex in addition to its increased volatility. Johnson explained that the power and voltage characteristics of inverter-generator systems can be aggregated using his technique, allowing operators to model the grid similarly to present conditions.

Guiping Zhu, associate professor and associate dean of electrical engineering at Tsinghua University, spoke about China’s present challenges in optimizing large-scale battery storage. “Wind power is intermittent, fluctuating, and has strong temporal and spatial correlations,” she noted, so she and her team created a model using real data from 34 Chinese wind farms. By simulating outputs, optimal storage capacity can be calculated, and model costs can be compared. These principles are promising for implementation throughout a renewable grid.

Ning Zhang, associate professor of electrical engineering at Tsinghua University, presented on multiple energy systems, in which energy inputs (coal, gas, hydro, wind, solar) interact to produce utility outputs (electricity, cooling, heating). He explained a complex model in which power converters within “hubs” can be optimized, such that a building, city, or region fulfills its utility demands at the lowest total cost of energy generation.

Qixin Chen, also an associate professor of electrical engineering at Tsinghua University, concluded the symposium with an examination of the economics of storage in Chinese electricity markets. In recent history, China has ramped up investment in battery technology, in order to fully leverage wind and solar sources, as well as power the world’s most rapidly growing electric car market. While initial capital investment is costly, Chen estimates that battery storage could save $300 per kilowatt over traditional “peak-shaving” (power throttling) policies in the long run. Chen’s economic model compares the differences in prices of grid power, power used for frequency regulation, and power reserves when storage is properly implemented to when it is not. The model illustrates that without proper battery storage, traditional thermal plants should remain profitable because they provide reliable power when a largely-renewable grid requires regulation or supplementation. However, if 300 GW of total storage is implemented by 2030, the need for thermal plants will be significantly diminished. Chen concluded, “It is not renewables that will be the death of traditional plants, it is the storage of those renewables.”

In 2015, UW, the State of Washington, Tsinghua University, and Sichuan Province formalized a relationship when the parties signed a “2+2 MOU”  to support collaborative research on clean energy and sustainable cities. As part of this agreement, in September, Tsinghua University’s Energy Internet Research Institute (EIRI) and UW’s Clean Energy Institute signed a collaboration agreement and EIRI pledged two seed fund projects: one on low emission transportation led by civil and environmental engineering professor Yinhai Wang, and the other for research led by professors Jim Pfaendtner (chemical engineering) and Kirschen on multi-scale engineering of clean energy systems.

Helping Puerto Rico & Reusing Bus Batteries: The New York Times on CEI

Left: Lilo Pozzo, The Weyerhaeuser Endowed Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering. Right: CEI Graduate Fellow and Battery Informatics CTO Matt Murbach installing used King County Metro bus batteries at Twin Islands

December 11, 2017: The New York Times features chemical engineering professor Lilo Pozzo, chemical engineering Ph.D. student Matt Murbach, and CEI director Dan Schwartz in an article published this week about clean energy innovation in Washington and California. “Rethinking Electric Power, Prompted by Politics and Disaster” highlights Pozzo’s work in Puerto Rico with a group of students on health-related energy resiliency issues and Murbach’s and Schwartz’s research on diagnosing the state of health in batteries and finding opportunities for reuse. Pozzo is hoping to return to Puerto Rico over spring break with students to continue these efforts. Murbach, the startup he helped found, Battery Informatics, and students are monitoring the installation of the King County Metro bus batteries on Twin Islands—demonstrating how these used batteries have potential for real-world stationary energy storage applications.

Matt Murbach Named a Forbes “30 Under 30” in Energy

Nov. 21, 2017: Chemical engineering Ph.D. student, Battery Informatics, Inc. (Bii) co-founder, and CEI Graduate Fellow Matt Murbach made Forbes’ “30 Under 30: Energy” list! Each year, the magazine selects the top 30 people in the world under age 30 working on energy solutions. Matt’s Ph.D. research with CEI Director Dan Schwartz is focused on inventing new ways to diagnose a battery’s state of health. Batteries are a critical and expensive asset in the emerging low-carbon energy economy. And, the company he helped form, Bii, is licensing UW intellectual property to extract value from battery assets over the whole battery lifecycle. Matt joins the ranks of previous Forbes “30 Under 30: Energy” honorees from CEI: electrical engineering professor Baosen Zhang and postdoctoral fellow Giles Eperon (working with CEI Chief Scientist and chemistry professor David Ginger).

UW Wins CleanTech Achievement Award

Nov. 16, 2017: The CleanTech Alliance, a Seattle-based consortium of more than 300 businesses and interest groups across six U.S. states and two Canadian provinces, honored UW with its CleanTech Achievement Award at the organization’s 10th anniversary celebration earlier this month. The group of regional business leaders recognized UW as an extraordinary resource for supporting the region’s cleantech talent pipeline, R&D base, infrastructure, and connectivity to the world. They also highlighted key programs that support this work including those of CEI, the Buerk Center’s Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge, and CoMotion.

‘Smart’ Engineered Fluids for Ultra-Low-Cost Electronic Devices & Solar Cells

“Efficient Electrosteric Assembly of Nanoparticle Heterodimers and Linear Heteroassemblies,” Langmuir, August 3, 2017
Lilo Pozzo, Ph.D., The Weyerhaeuser Endowed Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, University of Washington
Ryan Kastilani, CEI Graduate Fellow
Ryan Wong, Bellevue Community College, University of Michigan

Read the full article here.

When an Intel computer chip or conventional silicon solar cell is manufactured, materials with different functions are placed next to each other in carefully controlled, and often repeating, patterns at the nano- and micro-scale. But, achieving this nano-to-micro-scale manufacturing requires complicated and expensive machines. Getting nature to put different (heterogeneous) materials together spontaneously into repeating patterns, a process called self-assembly, could help. Professor Lilo Pozzo (chemical engineering) has laid out a process called “heteroassembly” to do just that. Starting with an “ink,” a fluid containing nanomaterials with engineered interfaces, Pozzo, CEI Graduate Fellow Ryan Kastilani, and Ryan Wong (Bellevue Community College; now University of Minnesota) show that they can get a mixture of two types of nano-particles, each about 1/1000th the diameter of a hair, to pair and then spontaneously grow in a specific patterned way to form linear heteroassemblies. The key is how Kastilani engineered the particle interfaces to efficiently stick to, or be repelled from, the other kind of particle in the mixture. This is an important step in turning an ink from a “dumb” fluid we use to color a piece of paper, to a “smart” engineered fluid that becomes the foundation for ultra-low-cost manufactured electronic devices and solar cells.

2017-2018 Fellows Selected

Sept 14, 2017: CEI selected 16 Ph.D. students from departments across UW for its Graduate Fellowship Program. In addition, 17 graduate students were selected for cohort two of DIRECT, a data science training program (check out this KNKX story about DIRECT). We’re honored to support these future clean energy leaders!

Announcing the Mark Torrance Foundation Tech Due Diligence Program

August 28, 2017: The Clean Energy Institute is pleased to announce a new professional development opportunity for UW undergraduate and graduate students: the Mark Torrance Foundation Tech Due Diligence Fellows Program.

Thanks to a generous gift from the Mark Torrance Foundation, we are able to offer a number of students the opportunity to serve on a real investment diligence team evaluating new technologies for Element 8, a cleantech angel investment group.

Applications are now being accepted; decisions will be made on a rolling basis throughout September.

Learn more about the program and apply now!

Global Corporations and Cleantech Startups Begin Testing Innovations at Washington’s Open-Access Clean Energy Facility

August 18, 2017

Global corporations, U.S. solar companies, and Washington startups have signed up to test their cleantech at the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds, created by the University of Washington (UW) Clean Energy Institute (CEI), during the facility’s first six months of operation. Companies using the Testbeds include Microsoft, Washington’s PureSolar, and several UW spinout companies. This diverse group of customers and UW’s faculty and students use the open-access facility’s unique suite of instruments to manufacture prototypes, test devices, and integrate systems.

“With this robust roster of Testbeds users, CEI is building a community of cleantech and advanced manufacturing innovators that will help Washington and the world accelerate the development of new technologies in solar harvesting, energy storage, and grid integration,” said Washington Clean Energy Testbeds technical director Devin MacKenzie. “We’re grateful to have this caliber of customers and look forward to helping them advance their critical technologies.”

CEI opened the 15,000-square-foot Washington Clean Energy Testbeds in February with funds from the Washington State Legislature. CEI’s goal for the facility is to reduce the time and capital needed to translate research discoveries into scalable energy products. To achieve this, CEI designed the Testbeds to centralize the instruments and expertise required for developing new manufacturing approaches, making prototypes, then rigorously testing and refining them for market readiness. The facility’s open-access model also allows for speed, as the application process to use the facility only requires an initial consultation with Testbeds’ management to ensure project feasibility and safety. Furthermore, users keep full ownership and control of their intellectual property. This operating model and the Testbeds’ set of capabilities distinguish it from other U.S. energy research and testbed facilities available to the public.

“The Washington Clean Energy Testbeds have everything we need as an early-stage company— enabling us to move into the solar marketplace with confidence in our products,” said PureSolar CEO Rich Phillips. “Working in this UW CEI facility has been seamless and the in-house researchers have helped us continue to be on the leading-edge of PV manufacturing.”

“The Washington Clean Energy Testbeds provide a unique set of fabrication tools and expertise that enable small companies to explore, evaluate, and characterize new materials and processes without the need for large and uncertain capital expenditure,” said MicroConnex’s vice president of engineering and technology Steve Leith. “For a small company like ours, the ‘try before you buy’ environment and opportunity to engage as a collaborator or a user, offer much needed flexibility in how we execute our tech development road map.”

In addition to expanding the Testbeds’ user base since its opening, CEI has added new instruments and capabilities to the facility. The 30-foot-long multistage roll-to-roll printer for solar cells, batteries, sensors, optical films, and thin-film devices custom built for the facility and funded by the Washington Research Foundation (WRF), arrived in late spring and is now operational. The instrument is one of the most advanced roll-to-roll systems in the world and the only one of its kind in the United States. CEI commissioned the instrument to support the development of low-cost materials and processes for ultra-low-cost solar cells that could be manufactured at large scales with a dramatically lower carbon footprint than silicon.

Other recent equipment acquisitions include a solar simulator and multiple environmental test chambers. The solar simulator is a large-scale photovoltaic performance measurement system capable of full module testing conforming to industry standards. The environmental test chambers allow for rigorous testing of energy system performance and lifetimes on the prototype and full module scales.

Altogether, the printing, coating, and testing capabilities at the Testbeds provide a unique platform for advancing cleantech manufacturing.

Current Washington Clean Energy Testbeds users include:

1-Material: Canadian company working to standardize Organic Nano Electronic (ONE) materials for organic thin-film applications.

4th Phase: UW spinout company focused on the use of a novel form of water for enhanced water filtration.

Battery Informatics, Inc. (Bii): UW spinout company developing the next generation battery management system.

Cloud Instruments: UW spinout company that offers a software analytics platform that applies machine learning to enable startups and manufacturers to build reliable batteries faster.

Demand Energy Networks, Inc.: Company headquartered in Liberty Lake, WA that provides turnkey solutions for optimizing distributed energy resource systems.

FOM Technologies: Danish company specializing in coating and testing equipment for research and development of functional materials.

MicroConnex: Snoqualmie, WA-based manufacturing company providing engineered fabrication solutions for flexible electronic circuits.

Microsoft: Global technology company that develops software, services, and devices.

PureSolar, Inc.: A manufacturer of high-performance, next-generation, smart photovoltaic modules and surfaces based in Washington state.

Sandia Solar Technology, LLC: A Colorado-based company working on Quantum Dot photovoltaic coating technologies for Operational Luminescent Solar Concentrator (LSC) applications for residential and commercial use.

The Washington Clean Energy Testbeds are part of two national manufacturing innovation institutes that involve consortiums of companies, academic institutions, nonprofits, and state, local, and federal governments. Testbeds management works with users to identify grant and project opportunities via these national institutes. These are:

CESMII: In partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, the Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CESMII) brings over $140 million in public-private investment to radically improve the precision, performance, and efficiency of U.S. advanced manufacturing. CESMII is the ninth Institute of the Manufacturing USA, established by the White House to spur U.S. innovation, sustainability, and competitiveness.

NextFlex: Formed in 2015 through a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and FlexTech Alliance, NextFlex is a consortium of companies, academic institutions, nonprofits and state, local and federal governments with a shared goal of advancing U.S. manufacturing of Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE). By adding electronics to new and unique materials that are part of our everyday lives in conjunction with the power of silicon ICs to create conformable and stretchable smart products, FHE is ushering in an era of “electronics on everything” and advancing the efficiency of our world.

For more information on the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds, visit www.wcet.washington.edu.

About the Clean Energy Institute
The Clean Energy Institute (CEI) at the University of Washington (UW) was founded in 2013 with funds from the state of Washington. Its mission is to accelerate the adoption of a scalable clean energy future that will improve the health and economy of our state, nation, and world. To accomplish this mission, CEI supports the advancement of next-generation solar energy and battery materials and devices, as well as their integration with systems and the grid. The institute creates the ideas and educates the people needed to generate these innovations, while facilitating the pathways to bring them to market. cei.washington.edu

About the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds
The Clean Energy Institute (CEI) created the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds to accelerate the development, scale-up, and adoption of new technologies in solar harvesting, energy storage, and grid integration. This open-access facility for academic researchers and businesses houses labs for manufacturing prototypes, testing devices, and integrating systems. wcet.washington.edu


Researchers Uncover Design Principles for Polymers that Can Transport Both Ions & Electrons

From the Ginger Lab: Lead author Rajiv Giridharagopal, left, and co-author Lucas Flagg, right, standing next to an atomic force microscope. Credit: Dane deQuilettes.

June 19, 2017

David Ginger, CEI’s chief scientist, along with members of his research group, and students from professor Christine Luscombe’s lab, published a paper in Nature Materials this month that uncovers the design principles for making a conductive plastic polymer that can transport both ions and electrons more effectively.

“Most of our technology relies on electronic currents, but biology transduces signals with ions, which are charged atoms or molecules,” said Ginger. “If you want to interface electronics and biology, you need a material that effectively communicates across those two realms.”

Organic semiconducting polymers are complex matrices made from repeating units of a carbon-rich molecule. An organic polymer that can accommodate both types of conduction — ions and electrons — is the key to creating new biosensors, flexible bioelectronic implants, and better batteries. But differences in size and behavior between tiny electrons and bulky ions have made this no easy task.

Read more about this research in this UW press release. The full paper is available here.

Report: Grid Modernization Is Key for Creating Quality Jobs in Washington

Building on Washington’s strengths in grid modernization can maximize job growth and give the state a competitive economic edge. That’s according to The Washington Jobs Project: A Guide to Creating Jobs in Grid Modernization, a new report by the American Jobs Project in partnership with the University of Washington’s Clean Energy Institute and Western Washington University’s Institute for Energy Studies. The new report offers policy recommendations to foster Washington’s grid modernization industry to support an annual average of over 13,800 jobs through 2030. These recommendations include:

  • Strengthening the state’s foreign direct investment strategy.
  • Providing tax incentives to grid modernization companies.
  • Supporting small businesses’ access to university and national lab resources.
  • Expanding career-connected learning in high schools.
  • Incentivizing utility innovation.

Read the full report here.

Ms. Vorpahl Goes to Washington (D.C.)

May 1, 2017
By Jake Precht:

Chemistry Ph.D. student Sarah Vorpahl will bring her passion for clean energy and policy to Washington, D.C. this September as a 2017-2018 Materials Research Society (MRS) and The Optical Society (OSA) Congressional Science and Engineering Fellow.

Her colleague in Clean Energy Institute (CEI) Chief Scientist David Ginger’s lab, Jake Precht, interviewed Sarah about her research, her experience as a CEI Graduate Fellow, and what’s next in her career.

Jake Precht (JP): Tell me about your work investigating next-generation solar cells with CEI Chief Scientist David Ginger.

Sarah Vorpahl (SV): My research in the Ginger Lab is broadly on a class of new solar cell materials that can be made into solution processible thin-films. This means that the solar cell absorber material is available as an ink that can be rolled out much the same way a newspaper is, via a roll-to-roll processor. Making solar cell materials in this way allows for a lot less material to be used, which both decreases the cost and increases the flexibility.

My most recent work focuses on an exciting new material called perovskite, which has gained attention for its swift rise in device efficiency within a relatively short period. Despite the impressive gains of these materials in the past 5 years, there are still many fundamental questions that remain open about perovskites. Our lab is interested in probing the fundamental electronic and material properties that underpin issues of device stability and other defects. I am particularly interested in understanding how the electromechanical properties of these materials, such as ferroelectric domain orientation, relate to their device performance as solar cells. I use atomic force microscopes to investigate these fundamental properties by creating maps with nanoscale spatial resolution that can then be correlated and compared with the overall performance at a bulk scale. Being able to ask fundamental questions about the local nanoscale properties under relevant operating conditions allows for a more dynamic understanding of how perovskites function as a solar cell.

JP: How has CEI helped you in these studies?

SV: CEI has been a critical component to my graduate research. I have benefitted from the combination of having both world-class instrumentation as well as a vibrant community of graduate students and faculty in clean energy materials at my fingertips. I also think that because of CEI, UW has been able to attract top-notch postdocs and new faculty, which has had a direct impact to my lab. I have taken advantage of the CEI Graduate Fellowship and academic meetings (such as the Orcas Conference) that have allowed me to interface with people about research related to my field.

JP: How has CEI has helped you achieve your career goals?

SV: CEI has provided me with incredible opportunities to interface with policy makers, industry, and entrepreneurs in the WA state cleantech ecosystem. Since CEI is a member of the CleanTech Alliance, I have been able to take advantage of their events such as the CleanTech Breakfasts featuring important figures in the cleantech community as well as other networking events. Because I have made my interest in policy known within CEI, both my PI David Ginger and CEI Director Daniel Schwartz have given me amazing opportunities to represent CEI and discuss clean energy with local policy makers. For example, last October I served as a volunteer note taker at a Utilities and Transportation Commission workshop on innovation and the role of regulation. At this meeting, I learned about the challenges and unintended consequences of policy that seeks to satisfy the often-clashing interests between innovators, utilities, and regulators. CEI has been a hugely important institution during my graduate school career and has absolutely allowed me the space to grow and shape my policy understandings and beliefs.

JP: What other organizations are you involved in at the University of Washington (UW)?

Sarah Vorpahl and her colleagues in the Ginger Lab at the Seattle March for Science

SV: Four years ago, I founded Women in Chemical Sciences (WCS) to create a culture of inclusion in the UW Chemistry Department and beyond. Under my guidance as president, WCS became a fully funded group in the Chemistry Department, held dozens of workshops and career talks, and brought in world-famous speakers through competitive grants from within the university. I was also one of the founding members of Diversity in Clean Energy (DICE), a group within CEI that helps bring in diverse voices from the clean energy community. Last year, citing the need for further conversations across campus about diversity in STEM, I worked with CEI Graduate Fellow Nicholas Montoni to hold a one-day seminar called, “Strengthening STEM through Diversity.” The event brought together over a hundred students, faculty, and staff from across campus to help amplify the experience of minoritized students on campus.
I have also been fortunate to spend some time working with other policy students on campus. Realizing my desire to translate my work to policy, I dedicated a year to advanced coursework in this field through the Evans School of Public Policy at UW and earned a Ph.D. Concentration in Public Policy and Management. I pursued this extracurricular research to understand the fundamental way to ask questions in this field and I have been able to apply these ideas directly in the arena of energy policy.

JP: Why do you think it’s important to increase women’s and other minority group’s participation in STEM?

SV: Bringing a diverse voice to science makes it better. Not everyone is given equal access to the educational, emotional, or community resources necessary to achieve in STEM from an early age and especially later in college and beyond. Increasing representation and access to STEM means both increasing our early education in these subjects as well as having a faculty and student body that more closely mirror the demographics of this country. A major part of understanding the issues of diversity in STEM is talking about it! So creating safe places to share experiences, especially from those that have been successful, is critical to shining a light on the ways that minoritized students experience hardships as they go through their science careers.

JP: I know that you’re active in science policy advocacy here in Seattle. Tell me about your work for the Washington State Department of Commerce.
SV: After the election, feeling a little dismayed and helpless, I contacted Brian Young, the Governor’s clean technology sector lead at the Washington State Department of Commerce, whom I had met at a CleanTech Alliance event. I asked if I could intern at the Commerce Department to see how a technical person might have an impact on policy. I ended up working with the energy department on writing about the success stories from the Clean Energy Fund (CEF). CEF is an innovative program in Washington state that sets aside money from the capital budget for the development, testing, and deployment of new clean energy innovations to help reduce carbon emissions and increase the security and flexibility of the grid. I have been able to interface with all aspects of the clean energy world in Commerce, including the folks doing the daily policy work for clean energy in the state government, the big picture thinkers, the business development folks, as well the engineers who are working to make sure we can successfully transition to a new, shared energy economy. Seeing each of these roles has given me the opportunity to see how unique our energy landscape really is.

JP: As long as we’re talking science policy, now’s a great time to say congratulations on your recent Congressional Fellowship! What are you going to be doing in Washington, D.C.?

SV: I am honored to have this chance to work in D.C. I will be working in a congressional office staffing either a senator or representative on science-related issues. I am in a cohort of about 20 other fellows who will also be working on science issues. I hope to focus mainly on energy policy, but I am sure that I will have exposure to many different subjects as part of my work! I also get to take the same civics crash course as all freshmen congressional representatives. Hopefully I’ll learn a little more about how a bill becomes a law than what I know from “Schoolhouse Rock!”

JP: What is hindering widespread clean energy implementation in the United States?

Sarah Vorpahl in front of the White House

SV: I think the good news is that there are great advancements in technology on the way, especially at the academic research level! For example, we are seeing real potential in materials like perovskites for solar. Additionally, scientists are continuing to improve large-scale storage to help mitigate these distributed energy sources on the grid. I think that the biggest hurdle is an institutional one. Utilities in general are a very arcane business model and the institutions that regulate them create bureaucratic lag. Additionally, we have the very real hardware problem that comes with our aging and outdated electric grid. I believe that there are many progressive utilities that want to provide greater and cleaner options for energy consumers, but they also need to make money at the end of the day. Figuring out how to work with utilities and help mitigate cost and risk for modernizing the grid and bringing more distributed energy online is one of the greatest challenges moving forward for clean energy.

I think that policy can step in to both incentivize renewable energy implementation as well as mitigate some of the risk involved with being an early adapter. Innovative policy like the clean energy fund here in Washington state, and what’s happening in New York, helps mitigate the risk to utilities and other institutions for being early adopters of clean technology.

JP: Thanks, Sarah! Good luck wrapping up your Ph.D. and starting your fellowship in D.C.!

Jake Precht is a second-year graduate student in CEI Chief Scientist David Ginger’s lab.

Corie Cobb Joins CEI

CEI is proud to welcome Corie Cobb to UW as a Washington Research Foundation Innovation Professor in Clean Energy and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering. The Mechanical Engineering department and CEI partnered to help recruit Cobb, an expert in novel manufacturing and design methods for next-generation energy devices and materials, to UW.

More on Professor Cobb:

Cobb comes to the UW from Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), Inc. where she was a Senior Member of Research Staff leading research projects on advanced manufacturing technologies for solar cells, batteries and high strength and toughness materials. At PARC, Corie specialized in computational analysis, hardware design and process development for printing and patterning of multi-functional materials. Her research has been funded by grants from DOE EERE, ARPA-E, DARPA and industrial partners. Prior to PARC, Corie was a mechanical design engineer at Applied Materials and held positions at Hewlett-Packard, Bell Labs, Google and Toshiba. During her doctoral studies, Corie’s research focused on engineering education and developing computational design synthesis and optimization tools for Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS).

Corie received her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from University of California, Berkeley, in 2008. She holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering (’04) and a bachelor’s degree in product design (’02) from Stanford University.

The longer-term focus of Corie’s research at the UW is to investigate novel manufacturing and design methods that enable next generation energy devices and materials with unprecedented performance and capabilities.

Corie was a 2002 Bell Labs Cooperative Research Fellowship Program recipient and a 2005 Alfred P. Sloan Ph.D. Scholar. More recently, Corie was an invited participant at the 2015 National Academy of Engineering China-America Frontiers of Engineering Symposium and the recipient of a best paper award at the 2015 SiliconPV conference with her co-authors.


CEI Opens Washington Clean Energy Testbeds with Governor Inslee




Cleantech Businesses and Academic Researchers can

Prototype and Test Clean Energy Devices, Software, and Systems at Washington Clean Energy Testbeds

Seattle, WA (February 16, 2017)—A new facility for accelerating the clean energy innovation cycle opened in Seattle today. The Clean Energy Institute (CEI), a research unit at the University of Washington (UW), created the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds to increase the rate at which breakthrough science and engineering discoveries turn into market-adopted clean energy technologies. The state-of-the-art user facility has labs for manufacturing prototypes, testing devices, and integrating systems. CEI unveiled the Testbeds at a celebration with Washington Governor Jay Inslee, cleantech leaders, and clean energy researchers.

“The process of taking a clean energy research discovery and making a prototype, then rigorously testing and refining it for market readiness, requires equipment and expertise that is expensive to acquire, and rarely available when and where you need it,” said CEI director Daniel Schwartz. “As a result, too many start-ups have great ideas, but fail before fully demonstrating their technology. Amazingly, lack of easy access to facilities and expertise is often a barrier for big companies, too. The Washington Clean Energy Testbeds centralize these resources to help shorten the time between clean energy idea to prototype, while reducing the capital and providing the expertise a company needs to get a viable product in the hands of customers.”

Located in a former sheet metal fabrication facility near UW’s Seattle campus, the 15,000-square-foot Washington Clean Energy Testbeds provide researchers and cleantech businesses customized training and access to top-quality fabrication, characterization, and computational instruments. Specifically, these instruments are for printing, coating, and testing the materials and devices needed to achieve ultra-low-cost solar cells and batteries; as well as developing the system integration software and hardware to optimize the performance of devices and systems like vehicles, buildings, and the grid. At the Testbeds, users can:

  • Print ultra-low-cost, thin-film solar cells and electronic devices using novel electronic inks.
  • Fabricate and test new battery systems to dramatically increase performance without compromising safety.
  • Develop and test energy management software that controls and optimizes how batteries, vehicles, and buildings integrate with a clean energy grid.

The Washington State Legislature provided UW $8 million to plan and design the Testbeds. CEI engaged UW faculty, regional cleantech leaders, and national research institutions like the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) to create a facility that serves clean energy innovators.

“The Washington Clean Energy Testbeds are a tremendous resource for Washington’s and the world’s visionary clean energy entrepreneurs and researchers,” said Governor Inslee. “I applaud CEI for building a center that will lead to the development of technologies to benefit our economy and environment. Our state’s commitment to clean energy remains strong.”

For comparison, access to public energy research and testbed facilities often involves a competitive application and approval process. The Washington Clean Energy Testbeds’ open-access model requires only an initial consultation with Testbed management to ensure project feasibility and safety. Open-access is ideal for researchers and companies that want to rapidly advance their ideas.

“I wish these Testbeds existed when EnerG2 was developing its advanced carbon materials for energy storage,” said EnerG2 CEO Rick Luebbe. “This specialized facility connects clean energy startups to a supportive university, talented people, and the necessary instruments. It’s unlike anything in the country and offers a smart solution for slashing the time and funding needed to de-risk a technology concept.”

Professor J. Devin MacKenzie, a seasoned cleantech entrepreneur and global expert in electronic materials and emerging manufacturing methods for energy devices, displays, and communication, will lead the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds. MacKenzie has founded and led five startup companies and holds over 110 patents and publications. In addition to leading the Testbeds and teaching at UW, he is currently the chief technical officer of Imprint Energy, a UC Berkeley spinout developing flexible, high-energy batteries based on large-area print manufacturing.

At the Testbeds, MacKenzie manages a staff of trained experts in fabrication and analysis of energy systems and devices. They work on-site to train users and support research and development efforts.

“CEI’s vision for an open-access clean energy testbed model based at a world-class university with an innovation focus brought me from the Bay Area to Seattle,” said MacKenzie. “I’m thrilled to help foster a community of distinguished faculty, bright students, and cleantech businesses that will work together to create solutions for a healthy planet.”

The “Scale-up & Characterization” portion of the Testbeds offers a platform for prototyping authentic-scale solar and storage devices as well as testing manufacturing processes. The lab includes a 30-ft-long multistage roll-to-roll printer for solar cells, batteries, sensors, optical films, and thin-film devices and is the only one of its kind in the United States. The Washington Research Foundation (WRF), an organization that provides grants to support research and scholarship in Washington State, funded this sophisticated instrument and helped recruit MacKenzie and staff to Seattle.

The “Scale-up & Characterization” lab also includes a controlled humidity and temperature room to enable specialized fabrication under precise atmospheric conditions. The collection of characterization instruments in the lab form a unique roster of capabilities tailored specifically for supporting scaled energy devices and modules. They allow for rigorous testing of new devices using solar simulators, environmental test chambers, battery cyclers, electron microscopes, X-ray spectrometers and other instruments.

WRF Innovation Professor Venkat Subramanian and Kyocera Professor Jihui Yang from UW will use the “Scale-up and Characterization” lab for their work with the Battery500 consortium. Battery500 is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) program led by PNNL that aims to develop next-generation lithium batteries that have more than double the “specific energy” found in the batteries that power today’s electric cars. The multi-disciplinary consortium includes leaders from DOE, national labs, universities, and industry, all of which are working together to make smaller, lighter, and less expensive batteries that manufacturers can adopt.

The “Systems Integration” lab at the Testbeds provides an evaluation platform for testing the performance of energy devices and algorithms when integrated into real and simulated system environments. For example, a real-time digital simulator (RTDS) allows for modeling commercial and grid-scale system performance under normal and extreme conditions. System integration experiments using the RTDS can involve new software algorithms that control or optimize power infrastructure. The lab also includes flexible power hardware and battery storage devices up to 40 kW in scale, allowing authentic testing at the scale of an electric vehicle or commercial building. Battery Informatics, Inc., a UW spinout company, is using the Testbeds’ systems integration tools to evaluate the performance of their self-learning battery management system.

Another research initiative housed at the “Systems Integration” lab includes the Transactive Campus Energy Systems project. This first-of-its-kind regional partnership with UW, PNNL, and Washington State University seeks to develop and demonstrate the technologies to cost effectively balance energy use among buildings, campuses, and cities. Funding for this project comes from the Washington Department of Commerce’s Clean Energy Fund and DOE. UW professors Daniel Kirschen and Miguel Ortega-Vazquez lead this project for UW and Testbeds users can access data researchers are drawing from devices and systems across UW’s campus.

“The Washington Clean Energy Testbeds harness the research knowledge and technical expertise of UW faculty and students for the creation of clean energy technologies that are cost-effective and reduce carbon emissions,” said UW President Cauce. “And this facility will help train students in the software and hardware that underpins smart manufacturing and smart grid solutions, creating a pipeline of talent for the next generation of clean energy innovations.”

In addition to lab space, the Testbeds offer users meeting and office space where they can work, collaborate, and further build their cleantech community. An entrepreneur-in-residence, currently John Plaza, will hold regular office hours.  With more than 20 years of experience in the renewable energy sector, Plaza will provide users with insights about the commercialization process, target markets, product development, and fundraising strategies.

In summer 2017, CEI will open its Research Training testbed for students on UW’s campus. Part of the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds system, this facility provides UW students access to research-quality tools and training in clean energy concepts that cut across academic disciplines. CEI member faculty will host laboratory courses in the space and Testbeds users can access the additional instrumentation when not in use for teaching purposes.

Contact soffen@uw.edu for photos.

About the Clean Energy Institute

The Clean Energy Institute (CEI) at the University of Washington (UW) was founded in 2013 with funds from the State of Washington. Its mission is to accelerate the adoption of a scalable clean energy future that will improve the health and economy of our state, nation, and world. To accomplish this mission, CEI supports the advancement of next-generation solar energy and battery materials and devices, as well as their integration with systems and the grid. The institute creates the ideas and forms the people needed to generate these innovations, while facilitating the pathways to bring them to market. cei.washington.edu

About the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds

The Washington Clean Energy Testbeds in Seattle provide users customized training and access to state-of-the-art fabrication, characterization, and computational instruments for innovations in clean energy devices and systems. The Clean Energy Institute at the University of Washington operates the facility. wcet.washington.edu


Breakthrough Energy Ventures Fund Announced

Bill Gates is leading a more than $1 billion fund focused on fighting climate change by investing in clean energy innovation. CEI is thrilled about this commitment from patient investors and ready to lead the charge of impatient researchers. The Puget Sound Business Journal interviewed Director Dan Schwartz about this opportunity for the Seattle region.

Gates’ new venture could prompt growth in Puget Sound-area clean tech industry

Ashley Stewart

Dec 15, 2016

Seattle-area billionaires this week came together to launch a $1 billion venture capital fund led by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures boasts investments from entrepreneurs including Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and Alibaba founder Jack Ma.

Venture capitalists are generally hesitant to back clean tech. Silicon Valley investors bet big on clean energy technology between 2006 and 2011, pouring $25 billion into the sector. They lost more than half of their investments.

Since then, it’s been difficult to get venture capitalists to fund clean tech.

This new 20-year fund, though, will focus on early- and growth-stage investments in clean technology startups that are creating reliable, affordable and zero-carbon energy, food, products and services.

Instead of a traditional VC model, which generally requires liquidity within five years, the 20-year structure of the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund means it can take a risk on a revolutionary product or service and give it time to get from lab to commercialization.

While the fate of efforts to reverse the effects of climate change at the federal level are uncertain, University of Washington Clean Energy Institute Director Daniel Schwartz said the Seattle-area business community can lead by example.

Puget Sound-area companies are already taking the initiative to promote the use of sustainable energy.

Microsoft and Amazon, for example, are investing in renewable sources including wind farms to power data centers. Boeing is hiring environmental experts to help reduce the company’s contribution to greenhouse gases, 4 percent of which are emitted by the aerospace industry.

While Schwartz said the effects of a President-elect Donald Trump’s administration on clean technology is still uncertain, it’s clear now is an important time to invest in the sector.

The environmental and economic case for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are clear in the Puget Sound region. Washington state would be directly impacted by a rise in sea levels, for example. Less snow on the mountains — as the state saw a few years ago — has a drastic impact on the agriculture industry here.

Sustainable energy sources are often cheaper and can create more jobs than traditional sources. Solar energy exists as a small fraction of the overall energy mix, but the sector accounted for more jobs in 2015 than oil and gas extraction or coal mining.

Reducing energy used to heat and cool buildings by taking advantage of natural air flow is not only greener — it’s less expensive.

Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures is a high-profile business effort to promote clean technologies, but Washington state already has several. The state’s Clean Energy Fund provides grants to companies and organizations working to develop clean energy and the Clean Tech Alliance works with companies and institutions to help commercialize the products and services.

Schwartz’s Clean Energy Institute works with students and serves to advance new solar energy and battery materials and devices.

“What we’re working on is the lowest-cost form of energy,” Schwartz said. “It’s going to be so inexpensive and abundant, there’s no reason to argue with it.”

DOE & WA Sign MOU on Grid Modernization at CEI

Director of WA State Department of Commerce Brian Bonlender, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability at DOE Patricia Hoffman, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Advanced Grid Research and Development Division at DOE Michael Pesin sign MOU to support Clean Energy Fund and grid modernization. Credit: WA State Department of Commerce

On October 18, 2016, CEI hosted a DOE and regional delegation for the signing of an MOU on grid modernization.  Assistant Secretary for the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE) at the DOE Patricia Hoffman came to Seattle to recognize our state’s regional leadership in this area of work.  CEI Director Dan Schwartz and Electrical Engineering Professor Daniel Kirschen participated in the conversation about our transactive campus project with WSU and PNNL, and grid cybersecurity.

Orcas 2016: International Conference on Energy Conversion & Storage

On September 7-9, 78 researchers and innovators gathered at beautiful Friday Harbor Labs on San Juan Island for the 3rd biennial ORCAS Conference. The conference focused on three themes: 1) materials synthesis and characterization for energy harvesting and storage, 2) Scaling and stability of third generation photovoltaics, and 3) Modeling grid systems that integrate conventional and alternative energy sources. Speakers explored the challenges of measuring and modeling energy conversion properties and processes from the molecular scale to the national grid scale and from timescales of nanoseconds to decades. Forty graduate students from UW presented research posters with lively discussions and exchanges across disciplines.

DOE Releases NW Regional Clean Energy Innovation Partnership Report

WA Governor Jay Inslee, Secretary of Energy Ernest J. Moniz, and U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell at the Northwest Regional Clean Energy Innovation Partnership Workshop on August 15.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has released a new report entitled, “Exploring Regional Opportunities in the U.S. for Clean Energy Technology Innovation.”

Volume I of this report summarizes the results of 14 university-hosted regional forums (from April through September 2016) that DOE participated in on regional clean energy innovation. On August 15, 2016, the Clean Energy Institute hosted one of these forums, the Northwest Regional Clean Energy Innovation Partnership (RCEIP) Workshop, at the University of Washington.

Volume II is a compilation of the reports written and produced by the individual universities. The Northwest Regional Clean Energy Innovation Partnership Workshop Report is available here.

“Providing clean energy to the inhabitants of our planet is a major challenge to future generations. The University of Washington is to be congratulated for establishing an Institute where faculty and students can work together to tackle the difficult global challenge of energy sustainability.”
– Mildred Dresselhaus, Professor of Physics and Electrical Engineering, Emerita and Institute Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
“Energy competition is opening up in a variety of ways, the push for carbon control will continue, and the rate of technology advancement is exponential. All the things I’ve seen at the CEI are just perfect for the way we see things going in energy. You guys are at the cutting edge. We’re counting on you.”
– Ronald Litzinger, President, Edison Energy
Since its founding the Clean Energy Institute has contributed more than $1.1 million toward the education of 66 STEM scholars and recruitment of 12 students through our fellowship programs.