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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
August 3, 2018
Vesicus, an advanced materials startup founded by University of Washington (UW) mechanical engineering alumnus Krishna Nadella (PhD ’09, MS ’02) and UW mechanical engineering professor Vipin Kumar, won $225,000 in Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) funding to develop nanostructured thin films for lithium-ion batteries at the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds. The STTR program provides federal funding to cooperative research and development (R&D) initiatives between small businesses and research institutions. The UW Clean Energy Institute’s Washington Clean Energy Testbeds is an open-access facility for scaling next-generation clean energy devices and systems. Users from industry and academia can fabricate prototypes, test devices and modules, and integrate systems at the facility.
“The Testbeds enabled Vesicus to win this STTR award because they are specifically designed and equipped to support startup companies that need access to processing and characterization instruments,” said Nadella. “Often, companies like ours cannot afford this equipment unless they raise a lot of equity financing early on, typically before there is proof of product-market fit. More than just an office and lab space, the availability of both technical and business experts make the Testbeds a very effective place to build a clean energy startup.”
Vesicus develops and commercializes novel cellular materials made up of cells ranging from tens of micrometers down to single-digit nanometers in size. Its STTR-funded R&D will center on a nanoporous polymer thin film with an initial application as an ion-exchange membrane in lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. The nanoporous polyetherimide (PEI) film will have a higher porosity and thermal stability than the separators used in existing models. Compared to the current multi-step process for fabricating battery separators, Vesicus’ continuous process will also result in higher productivity, thereby increasing American global competitiveness in battery manufacturing. Vesicus is using the Testbeds’ roll-to-roll printer and characterization tools for this work.
Krishna Nadella has been a serial entrepreneur in commercialization of advanced materials for the last 16 years. After the “dramatic failure” of his first startup venture, Nadella returned to UW to partner with his Ph.D. advisor, Kumar. The pair decided to start a new company to commercialize advanced materials and other technologies developed in Kumar’s lab.
Nadella explained, “Our mission at Vesicus is to conduct the R&D needed to develop these novel cellular materials into many applications, each of which may need a specific business model suitable for the particular industry — in some cases it may be licensing, in other cases it may be manufacturing spinoffs, or in yet others it may be joint ventures.”
Testbeds Technical Director J. Devin MacKenzie was instrumental in their venture into the Li-ion battery industry. “Devin taught us the various issues faced by the industry and was part of multiple brainstorming sessions centered on potential solutions to these issues using our materials technology and knowledge,” said Nadella. MacKenzie, a Washington Research Foundation professor of clean energy and associate professor of materials science and engineering and mechanical engineering at UW, has over 17 years of experience as a cleantech entrepreneur. His research group will play a key role in characterizing and measuring the performance of Vesicus’ novel materials.
“This type of collaboration is exactly what we envision for the Testbeds,” said MacKenzie. “Vesicus is bringing a key research innovation to market, which is imperative for a clean energy future. We’re excited to support startups like Vesicus with access to top-end instrumentation like our roll-to-roll printer, as well as advising services from technical and industry experts.”
Vesicus aims to develop a scalable design for testing by the end of the summer. Along with Li-ion batteries, other applications of these tunable cellular films include substrates for flexible electronic circuits, separators for the oil and gas industries, and filter membranes for biological technology. Upon successful completion of STTR Phase I R&D, Vesicus will become eligible for Phase II funding.
July 18, 2018
Washington Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow Max Friedfeld and Washington Research Foundation Innovation Postdoctoral Fellows in Clean Energy Daniel Kroupa and Jian Wang have been awarded Mistletoe Research Fellowships for the 2018-19 academic year. The Mistletoe Foundation builds bridges between the academic, entrepreneurial, and civil communities to create a more human-centered and sustainable future through technology. As part of the fellowship, awardees receive a $10,000 Unfettered Research Grant that can be applied to almost any university-approved research-related activity.
Friedfeld, a member of chemistry professor Brandi Cossairt’s group, researches the growth of quantum dots (QDs), which are semiconducting nanocrystals with a wide range of optoelectronic properties and high-tech applications. One such application is next-generation TV and display devices: QD displays can achieve up to a 30% increase in the spectrum of available colors while using 30 to 50% less power than LCD TVs. However, today’s commercial products often rely on cadmium-containing materials that are relatively toxic, so Friedfeld has explored QDs made of an alternate material: indium phosphide (InP). He is developing a new flow-based synthesis method for InP QDs that will grant access to greater control over the reaction, allowing for uniform QD growth and modification of InP QDs while taking less time, resulting in higher yields, and generating less waste than batch InP QD synthesis. To develop the technique, Friedfeld will utilize the Vapourtec V-3 pump flow reactor at the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds. Because the Testbeds already own this crucial piece of equipment, Friedfeld can use the Mistletoe funds to purchase auxiliary equipment and material supplies for his research. He ultimately wants to commercialize this technique, with the aim of improving upon today’s industrial-scale manufacturing of QDs for displays and other applications.
As a member of both Professor Cossairt and chemistry professor Daniel Gamelin’s research groups, Kroupa researches metal-halide perovskites, which have received considerable attention for next-generation solar cells due to low material and manufacturing costs and comparable performance to traditional silicon cells. Kroupa has found that selectively adding ytterbium ions (Yb) to cesium lead halide perovskites (CsPbX3) results in a unique phenomenon known as quantum cutting. Quantum cutting occurs when a single high-energy photon is converted into multiple lower-energy photons by a semiconducting material, due to quantum effects. Using the facilities at the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds, Kroupa’s goal is to harness this property by coating conventional silicon solar cells with a layer of quantum-cutting perovskite. In conventional solar cells, a single photon can only excite a single electron. However, by converting extra energy from high-energy photons into additional low-energy photons that excite additional electrons, Kroupa’s perovskite layer could create a dramatic increase in efficiency at low cost.
Wang’s research in CEI Chief Scientist and chemistry professor David Ginger’s group focuses on an existential challenge for organic photovoltaics: converting heat losses into usable voltage. Organic photovoltaics are a low-cost and flexible alternative to other photovoltaic technologies. However, current device configurations are susceptible to large voltage losses in the form of non-radiative recombination, which occurs when the energy from a photoexcited electron is lost into the surrounding atoms as vibration. These losses often occur due to the use of fullerenes — large, geometric carbon molecules similar to graphene and carbon nanotubes — as the material that accepts excited electrons, so Wang is developing an understanding of non-fullerene acceptors. A guideline to avoiding non-radiative recombination would be invaluable for chemists trying to synthesize new materials for advanced organic photovoltaics. By integrating non-fullerene acceptors, Wang hopes to push forward the commercialization of organic photovoltaics.
In a letter to awardees, Mistletoe wrote, “It is our belief that unfettered research—without pre-negotiated deliverables—is necessary to produce the kinds of scientific and technological advances with the potential to change the world.”
Congratulations, Max, Dan, and Jian!
Daniel Schwartz, a University of Washington professor of chemical engineering and director of the Clean Energy Institute, received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation this week. The OSTP and NSF recognized Schwartz for his commitment to interdisciplinary graduate education — helping students apply their research to societal and market needs — along with his dedication to recruiting and supporting Native American STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) scholars at the UW.
“I’m proud to join this cadre of dedicated educators and mentors helping students become leading scientists and engineers,” said Schwartz. “Focusing on clean energy science, engineering and resource management at UW has brought top students from across the country to Seattle, where they have partnered with Northwest tribes and businesses to ensure the future of energy is being created here.”
Starting in 2007, Schwartz launched an NSF-funded interdisciplinary graduate training program that used tribal clean energy research partnerships to attract top Native American students to graduate degree programs in UW’s College of the Environment and College of Engineering. The program was continued and expanded in partnership with Washington State University and Salish Kootenai College with U.S. Department of Agriculture funding, eventually including an undergraduate summer research experience program. Since the program launched, 26 students have completed doctoral degrees, with four awarded to Native Americans and four to other underrepresented minorities. Six masters have also been awarded — including two to Native Americans — and a tribal student-led startup company was founded. A signature achievement was the 2016 Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to Washington, D.C. on fuel partially made from tribal forest thinnings.
“When you take into consideration the low number of Native Americans succeeding in graduate school STEM programs, you must recognize the number of tribal scholars that Dan has helped succeed, in one way or another,” said UW doctoral student Laurel James. “I, for one, would not be where I am today without his mentorship and opportunities for employment as I worked my way through the majority of my Ph.D. as a single parent.”
In addition to his role as an educator and mentor, Schwartz is the founding director of the UW’s Clean Energy Institute, an interdisciplinary research unit that supports the advancement of next-generation solar energy and battery materials and devices, as well as their integration with systems and the grid. With funds from the state of Washington, CEI has supported 152 graduate fellows pursuing clean energy research at UW. Through CEI, fellows receive professional development training, network with industry professionals and top clean energy researchers from around the world, and lead K-12 STEM outreach programs for Washington state schools.
While in Washington, D.C to receive the PAESMEM this week, Schwartz and other award recipients participated in the White House State-Federal STEM Summit to identify educational priorities for the nation.
To read the article on UWNEWS, click here.
June 28, 2018
J. Devin MacKenzie, technical director of the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds and Washington Research Foundation professor of clean energy, materials science and engineering, and mechanical engineering at UW, and MicroConnex, Inc., a Snoqualmie, Washington company that performs custom and low-volume flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) manufacturing for high-tech industries, have been awarded a $980,000 grant to solve a key need within the FHE technology base. Using the roll-to-roll printing capabilities of the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds, an open-access lab for fabricating and testing clean technologies, MicroConnex is developing the ability to fabricate novel copper-clad, high-density interconnects on flexible substrates at an industrially-relevant scale.
The research partnership is funded by NextFlex, a Department of Defense-backed consortium of academic institutions and industry partners focused on developing and manufacturing FHE in the United States. UW became one of 30 founding members of NextFlex in 2016.
“This collaboration leverages the Testbeds’ strengths in print-based roll-to-roll electronics and MicroConnex’s expertise in flex circuits and electroplating technology,” said MacKenzie. “We’re excited to create a lower-cost, greener alternative for flexible electronics in medical, defense, aviation, and consumer products.”
Flexible hybrid electronics represent a new class of electronics that are bendable, stretchable and highly robust — well matched to applications such as wearable electronics, on-body sensors, and electronics for extreme environments. Furthermore, FHE are both thin and lightweight — the total thickness of FHE circuitry can approach 25 micrometers, and replacing rigid electronics with FHE can result in a weight reduction of over 50%. The ability to manufacture FHE at scale using advanced printing techniques could revolutionize devices like compact wireless transmitters, actuators, and medical sensors. In addition, FHE technology could be the cornerstone of a new era of “smart” and conformable consumer products to better interface with the human body, further advancing the efficiency and interconnectedness of our world.
“We are operating at the cutting edge of flex manufacturing, where high-risk, high-reward R&D is needed to deliver cost-competitive, high-tech solutions,” said Steve Leith, vice president of engineering and technology at MicroConnex and UW chemical engineering alum (B.S. 1991; Ph.D. 1998). “As a small company, MicroConnex would be challenged to manage the financial and technical risk of a project of this scope without the Testbed facilities and UW as a partner. The Testbeds’ state-of-the-art equipment, staff expertise, and IP terms are ideal for this research partnership and our business needs.”
MicroConnex’s new FHE manufacturing process is fully additive and eliminates many of the byproduct waste streams that result from conventional subtractive manufacturing techniques such as etching. Using the new process, a flexible substrate is first printed with a “seed” circuit pattern less than 300 nanometers thick, before the interconnects are built up along the pattern using electrodeposition. The project represents a significant advance for FHE manufacturing, moving away from typical subtractive circuitry fabrication processes while directly addressing fundamental challenges of circuit density, substrate flexibility, and manufacturing cost.
MacKenzie is an expert in printable and flexible electronic materials, having spent over 17 years in the field as a scientist, research leader, and seed-stage entrepreneur. His research team and MicroConnex have already begun their work on the NextFlex grant, with initial focus on demonstrating the ability to print high-resolution silver nanoparticle seed films on flexible polyimide substrates. Subsequent research phases will develop the electrodeposition processes necessary to transform the seed film into a working circuit. At the conclusion of the project, MicroConnex and the Testbeds will provide direct access to the developed technology to NextFlex members for both R&D and commercialization purposes.
Electrical engineering Ph.D. student Mareldi Ahumada installs solar panels with a Jayuya community member. Photo: Dennis Wise / University of Washington
May 18, 2018
Chemical engineering professor Lilo Pozzo and a group of CEI researchers and public health scientists traveled to Jayuya, Puerto Rico this spring. The team visited homes and community centers, interviewing dozens of caregivers and residents who use electronic medical devices, as part of a long-term field study on the impact of power loss on public health. They also donated and installed 17 solar-battery nanogrid systems — prototypes of a sustainable, clean energy infrastructure that can buoy public health in rural areas when power grids fail (in addition to the four systems they installed on a November trip). Pozzo and her team hope to return later this summer.
Read the full UW story about their work here.
Researchers sandwiched two atomic layers of CrI3 between graphene contacts and measured the electron flow through the CrI3. Photo: Tiancheng Song
May 3, 2018
Magnetic materials are the backbone of modern digital information technologies, such as hard-disk storage. A UW-led team has now taken this one step further by encoding information using magnets that are just a few layers of atoms in thickness. This breakthrough may revolutionize both cloud computing technologies and consumer electronics by enabling data storage at a greater density and improved energy efficiency. In a study published in Science, the researchers report that they used stacks of ultrathin materials to exert unprecedented control over the flow of electrons based on the direction of their spins — where the electron “spins” are analogous to tiny, subatomic magnets. The team used instruments in CEI’s Research Training Testbed for this research. Read the full story featuring physics grad student Tiancheng Song and physics postdoc Xinghan Cai from CEI member faculty Xiaodong Xu’s lab here.
Gabriella Tosado building solar cars with middle school students. Photo: Tara Brown / University of Washington
Read the original story here.
“I’m from Miami, Florida, where climate change isn’t just real; it’s personal,” says chemical engineering graduate student Gabriella Tosado. “My home city is seriously threatened by rising sea levels, and not only do I want to do my part to develop solutions to help fight climate change, I want to encourage young people — our next generation of engineers and scientists — to do the same.”
The first scientist in her family, Tosado triple-majored in chemistry, environmental science and policy, and religious studies at the University of Miami before switching gears to pursue a dual Ph.D. in chemical engineering and nanotechnology and molecular engineering. At the UW, she has melded her interests in sustainable engineering and community involvement through the UW Clean Energy Institute (CEI), where she’s been coordinating K-12 outreach programs since 2016.
We recently caught up with Tosado, who was named to the Husky 100 last spring, to learn more about her research and passion for inspiring underrepresented students — particularly young women and students of color — to pursue STEM disciplines and careers.
Why did you decide to study chemical engineering at the UW?
Although I love chemistry, I wanted to pursue a solutions-focused, application-oriented course of study for my graduate work, so I started looking at engineering programs.
When I visited Seattle to check out UW’s chemical engineering program, I discovered CEI, which had just opened on campus, and is working to advance clean energy technologies through solar energy, battery and grid research. When I realized I could get in on the ground floor of CEI’s innovative research, I decided that UW was the place for me.
Tell us about your research interests.
I’m working in ChemE professor Qiuming Yu’s lab to develop and stabilize perovskite solar cells. Perovskite is an exciting material that’s pretty new to the solar world. Its unique crystal makeup gives it a lot of interesting properties, and it can be printed on flexible materials, which is really cool. There’s hope that it may soon become a cheap, efficient, and high performing alternative to conventional — and expensive — silicon solar cells. But in its current state, it’s too unstable. We want to come up with a way to stabilize it so that it can be commercialized, ultimately making solar energy more accessible and affordable.
You are CEI’s first education fellow and outreach coordinator. What does that involve?
I develop outreach activities for CEI through the CEI Ambassador Program. This includes everything from creating curriculum materials and organizing tours to traveling across Washington state to teach K-12 students about clean energy and encourage them to think about going to college to study STEM. I’m proud to say that we’ve reached more than 40,000 students across the state to date.
Through CEI, I also started working with Pacific Science Center, and this year, I’m serving as a Pacific Science Center Communications Fellow. A few times each quarter, you can find me leading workshops and demonstrations at the Center as part of one of their many public programs, such as Meet a Scientist Day and Paws on Science Research Weekend.
You are a founding member of Women in Chemical Engineering (WChE). Why did this group get started?
ChemE assistant professor Elizabeth Nance started this group in 2016 to empower, educate and advocate for women in chemical engineering at all levels — undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and alums. In a male-dominated field like chemical engineering, I think it’s easy for women to feel invisible. With WChE we wanted to create a welcoming and open space for dialogue, mentorship and collaboration. We host professional development events, industry panels, and as the outreach coordinator, I create community networking and educational outreach opportunities. And we’re always excited to welcome new members! All students, regardless of gender, are encouraged to join and help us advocate for women in our discipline.
This fall, you organized “Introduce a Girl to Nano,” a nanotechnology fair to encourage young girls and women toward STEM fields. Tell us about it.
I organized “Introduce a Girl to Nano” on behalf of CEI and WChE and with help from some fantastic fellow UW students. In celebration of National Nanotechnology Day, our fair featured a variety of hands-on experiments for girls to try. They could react gold nanoparticles, race solar cars, create graphene circuits and rainbow thin film, and so much more! We offered STEM patches to Girl Scouts who participated, which was great fun.
This event was actually a follow-up to “Introduce a Girl to Photonics,” a fair I organized for CEI in 2016. That year 50 girls participated; this fall’s event brought in 277. I’m looking forward to seeing that number grow even more next year, though we haven’t decided on the theme yet. We’re considering robotics, coding and polymers, as well as a few others…
A lot of your outreach focuses on introducing underrepresented communities to science and engineering. In your opinion, why is it important to bring more diversity to STEM fields?
I think it’s important for girls and students of color to see women and people of color pursuing STEM disciplines in college. When I was a kid, no one in my immediate family had a background in science, and I didn’t really have any women mentors in science to look up to. So I carved out my own path. I often think about how meaningful it would have been to have someone to look to and say, “She did this; I can do this, too.” I’m now in a position where I can be that person for someone else, and that’s really motivating.
Speaking more broadly, engineers and scientists need to come up with solutions to today’s challenges, but to do so effectively, we need to be more creative and diverse in our problem-solving and ways of thinking. We need dynamic solutions in STEM, and the only way to get them is to diversify the field. The more difference, the more opportunity to cultivate and implement new ideas and approaches.
Outreach keeps me sane! In graduate school, there are many failures. You design, you test, and more often than not, you fail. So you start again. There’s a lot of stress.
But in outreach there’s so much wonder and excitement; it’s infectious and promising! The smiles on kids’ faces when they test out solar spinners they’ve just made, or when they realize they can make a battery from scratch — those moments are awesome. And I can’t tell you how much it brightens my day to see a bunch of little girls line up to race solar cars. That’s the best!
From left: Nutifafa Doumon (PhD student at University of Groningen), Andrew Banda (Lecturer at University of Zambia), Holliday, and Thywill Dzogbewu (Central University of Technology, Bloemfontein-SA). Photo credit: Nutifafa Doumon.
April 23, 2018
Over 50% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives without access to electricity, amounting to nearly 600 million people. In regions without grid access, kerosene lamps and solid biofuels are often burned for light and cooking – a practice linked with the deaths of at least 490,000 Africans each year. Solar power, battery storage, and alternative fuels are as important to solving Africa’s electricity deficiency as they are to reducing the West’s reliance on fossil fuels, but African scientists often lack access to the infrastructure and funding necessary to make significant cleantech advances.
University of Washington researchers are building connections with Africa’s cleantech community to help break down these barriers. In December 2017, with support from the Clean Energy Institute, Sarah Holliday, formerly a postdoctoral member of Christine Luscombe’s lab (materials science & engineering), and Griffin Ruehl, a CEI Graduate Fellow in Charlie Campbell’s group (chemical engineering), traveled to Gaborone, Botswana for the 9th International Conference of the African Materials Research Society (AMRS). The conference, “Addressing Africa’s Challenges Through Materials Development,” was focused on science that will enable local industries to meet the continent’s existing and future needs by using readily-available materials and natural resources, including its abundancy of solar energy. In addition to presentations and networking opportunities, AMRS offered free workshops on materials science techniques such as crystallography, nanofiber electrospinning, and scanning electron microscopy. Both Holliday and Ruehl presented their research at the conference.
Holliday (now at Imperial College London) performed research on thin-film organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells during her time at UW, culminating in a paper recently published in Advanced Electronic Materials. Her research illuminates a significant advance in the stability of OPV devices. Holliday shows that using solvents with lower boiling points in manufacturing reduces degradation due to light and oxygen exposure, allowing for roll-to-roll printing of OPV cells at room temperature. Silicon fabrication requires hundred-million-dollar facilities and temperatures over 1000°C, whereas roll-to-roll printing costs significantly less in capital and energy input. “The target is a 1-day energy payback for the whole OPV module,” Holliday said, as opposed to years for silicon-based photovoltaics.
Ruehl also presented at the AMRS conference, although he is still in the earlier stages of his research. Professor Campbell is known for his expertise in catalysis and surface science, which Ruehl is applying towards a fundamental understanding of biofuel synthesis, in which raw biomass is broken down into an intermediate “soup” before conversion into fuel. A knowledge of reactivity trends of the “soup” molecules may allow for the development of more efficient reactions, especially electrocatalysis that could be powered by decentralized, renewable resources.
Ruehl double majored in chemical engineering and global studies as an undergraduate at Montana State University. Looking for opportunities to combine these interests at UW, he sought the advice of another CEI Graduate Fellow, Sarah Vorpahl. Vorpahl introduced him to Holliday after a conversation about creating positive social impact through cleantech innovation. Ruehl said, “I believe that energy access and energy infrastructure are issues of human rights, of quality of life. We should encourage development of clean energy infrastructure [in the first place], rather than retrofitting infrastructure to be clean after the fact.”
Breena Sperry, a first-year materials science and engineering Ph.D. student in Luscombe’s group, is the newest member of the initiative. In her senior year at SUNY-Albany, she took a policy course focused on renewable energy, which she says illustrated the global impacts of clean energy and the disconnect between policymakers and scientists. The course inspired her to apply to graduate programs where she could interweave materials science and public policy. “CEI seemed like a great avenue to explore my interests,” she said. Shortly after joining Holliday’s team, which is focused on thin-film solar cells, the two struck up a conversation about Sperry’s interests beyond research. Sperry explained, “I wanted to get involved in broader-impact initiatives, such as working with communities that have yet to develop refined energy infrastructure, collaborating to discover solutions for accessible, inexpensive, and sustainable clean energy. It was right up [Holliday’s] alley, and I joined the project soon after.”
At the AMRS conference, the group made connections with the African Network for Solar Energy (ANSOLE), as well as the Materials Science and Solar Energy Network for Eastern and Southern Africa (MSSEESA). In September, Ruehl and Sperry will co-organize ANSOLE Days 2018, a conference hosted by ANSOLE at a vocational school in Cameroon. Along with the traditional research-based lectures and presentations, the event will include training sessions on mounting and maintenance of solar panels, as well as safety measures. “Hands-on training and discussion at the practical end of the spectrum is important for implementation, and this format will also help us understand the best ways for us to create positive impact,” Ruehl remarked.
The group’s goal is to transition from trips and events organized by a small group to a longer-term initiative that serves as a connection point between UW, local partners, and international partners in the global south. Holliday explained, “Across the global south, one billion people are still without electricity. Why would we try to develop this access on our own [as Western scientists], and not work with the people there to include everyone’s voice? We can solve localized energy crises by collaborating with those with local experience.”
March 22, 2018
Jiun-Haw Chu, Washington Research Foundation Innovation Assistant Professor of Clean Energy & Physics, was recently awarded $1.2 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Emergent Phenomena in Quantum Systems (EPiQS) initiative in support of the discovery and investigations of atomically thin and layered quantum materials. He has also been named a 2018 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellow, having been nominated by his peers in recognition of outstanding performance and potential within the field of quantum materials. CEI talked with Chu about how these prestigious awards will advance his research, his career path, and his experience at UW thus far.
Tell us about your research. How do you design and grow these materials from the bottom up?
My group is focused on the design, growth, and characterization of novel quantum materials. Quantum materials have electronic, magnetic, and optical properties that could revolutionize energy and information-processing technologies. We can grow crystals from 85% of the elements on the periodic table through use of the flux method, in which the components are dissolved, combined, then slowly cooled. This process results in large single crystals in a relatively short time scale, ideal for exploring a wide range of material phases. Our approach differs from those that are solely focused on measurements or material synthesis, because we combine intuition from physics, chemistry and materials science. We look at the chemical formula of a material and see what atoms can be replaced to create an exciting new property.
Why did you choose the field of quantum materials?
Quantum materials is a field that allows me to touch upon some of the most profound concepts in physics, such as topology and quantum field theory. At the same time, it also requires hands-on experiments with materials that could actually impact society. I like to travel back and forth between abstract ideas and down-to-earth experiences.
What are some of the possible applications for the quantum materials that you are researching?
While our group is generally focused on fundamental studies and discovering the properties of new quantum materials, some significant research targets include high-temperature superconductors and topological insulators. Harnessing the unique magnetic and electrical properties of superconductors at accessible temperatures would be ideal for grid-scale power transmission, battery-powered airplanes, and advanced MRI machines. Topological insulators, which are materials that conduct electrons at the surface but act as insulators within the bulk, show promise in quantum computing applications.
Congratulations on the Moore Foundation grant! What advances will this allow you to make?
The Moore Foundation has supported many of the prominent figures in the field of quantum materials, so I feel privileged to be a part of that community. The proposed focus of the EPiQS research is to be able to grow a wide variety of heterostructures – crystals with regions or layers of multiple different materials. The interfaces between layers, called heterojunctions, are often the site of new material behaviors or properties.
You have also been recognized by the Sloan Foundation for your contributions early on in your career. What advice might you give a graduate student or postdoc that is looking to make an impact early on in their own clean energy research?
It’s very hard to predict what will be the next big thing in 5-10 years. To be honest, I was very lucky, and happened to be at the right place at the right time. Work on something you are passionate about, something you love, and you won’t regret it.
Tell us about your relationship with UW’s Clean Energy Institute.
CEI Director Dan Schwartz played a big part in my decision to become a professor at UW. Over lunch, Dan illustrated how CEI could be a platform for interdisciplinary, collaborative research with a focus on materials and technology that could impact society. Shortly after I arrived on campus, CEI helped me quickly establish my group and connect to other researchers. I collaborate with many other CEI professors, like my fellow physicists Xiaodong Xu, David Cobden, and Kai-Mei Fu, and am looking forward to doing even more work together through the Molecular Engineering Materials Center (MEM-C). These collaborations will also help my research under the Moore grant, as these professors have expertise in the physics of nanoscale and 2D materials.
CEI has also facilitated our efforts to build a team with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) to create new heterostructures. CEI has funded two of my graduate students — Shua Sanchez and Josh Mutch — as part of the Graduate Fellowship Program, which has been a great way for them to connect to other researchers on campus and the broader cleantech community. Finally, I have collaborated with CEI chief scientist and chemistry professor David Ginger and Professor Xu to support research on the behavior of charge carriers in single-crystal perovskites, thanks to a CEI Exploration Grant.
You’re coming up on two years at UW! What have you enjoyed the most about your time here?
Everything! My wife and I were already in love with Seattle when we were graduate students, long before we moved here. I also truly enjoy the friendly and supportive environment at UW, and enjoy interacting with my colleagues, and brilliant and hard-working students.
January 24, 2018
As renewable resources are integrated into the grid, energy storage must be planned and deployed in order to harness and balance the natural fluctuations in electricity generation. Electrical engineering professor Daniel Kirschen and his students have continued to develop a model for optimal siting and sizing of storage utilities by adding a profit constraint for proposed systems. The Kirschen group utilized the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC) testbed for their simulations. The 240-bus (power transmission node) system represents the Western Interconnection grid that spans from the Pacific past the Rockies and includes British Columbia, Alberta, and part of Baja California. The results of the case study, as published in IEEE Transactions on Power Systems, show that increased rate-of-return requirements result in decreased deployment of energy storage. A comparison between lithium-ion batteries and above-ground advanced adiabatic compressed air energy storage (AA-CAES) shows that AA-CAES has the higher potential for reducing system-wide costs. However, AA-CAES technology is still at the pilot stage, with the first-ever utility-scale installation scheduled to open in Germany later in 2018. Lithium-ion storage systems are not deployed in any of the model market scenarios at current investment costs, but those costs are expected to continue to decrease for the next 10 years. At a 30% decrease in investment cost, lithium-ion installations are projected to be profitable investments within the Western Interconnection energy market.
Solar photovoltaic cells can experience drops in power generation efficiency when dust accumulates on the cover glass. In lieu of regular manual cleaning, engineers have modeled self-cleaning technology after the leaves of the lotus plant, using a microstructured surface to bead up water droplets that collect environmental contaminants as they roll off. However, this movement is random, so these technologies cannot clean the whole surface without an additional tilting mechanism. CEI Graduate Fellow Di Sun, advised by electrical engineering professor and Institute for Nano-engineered Systems (NanoES) director Karl Böhringer, has created a prototype that methodically cleans an entire surface using a new technology called Anisotropic Ratchet Conveyors (ARCs). As presented this June at the 19th International Conference on Solid-State Sensors, Actuators and Microsystems, in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, a self-assembled monolayer is deposited onto a silicon surface and etched into a rung pattern, which induces the water droplet to travel on a predetermined path when vibrated. The droplets can even be made to move uphill, up to a 15° incline. The ARC layer is optically flat and transparent, resulting in less than 1% degradation of light relative to bare glass. This November, Sun shared an update to his research at the International Conference on Micro and Nanotechnology for Power Generation and Energy Conversion Applications, in Kanazawa, Japan. The self-cleaning technology has successfully been applied to a photovoltaic module, and the ARCs can now be fabricated using a polymer-based stencil instead of the etching technique, helping to maintain the hydrophobicity of the underlying surface. Sun’s work has recently received support from the Amazon Catalyst program, a collaboration between Amazon and UW’s CoMotion to help fund “bold, globally-impactful, disruptive projects.”
Metal nanoparticles (NPs) supported on oxide surfaces are often used in industrial catalysis for energy and environmental technologies, such as in the production of clean fuels and the cleanup of exhaust emissions. The catalytic activity and deactivation rates of metal atoms within NPs have been shown to depend upon NP size and the properties of the supporting oxide, but catalysis chemists have yet to be able to quantitatively predict these effects. In this paper, published in ACS Catalysis, Professor Charles T. Campbell (chemistry) and graduate student Zhongtian Mao present a method of estimating the chemical potential of these metal atoms. This represents a significant step toward predictions of catalytic activity and deactivation rates, as those characteristics are correlated with chemical potential in known ways. For late transition metals, the chemical potential of the atoms in a particle of a chosen size can be modeled as a function of the surface energy of the metal, the adhesion energy at the NP/oxide interface, and the molar volume of the metal. Campbell also presents a linear estimation of that adhesion energy, based on oxygen density on the surface of the oxide and known thermodynamic properties of the metal and the oxide. The model is the first to allow for predictions of chemical potential vs. NP size for different metals on different oxides, with relative errors better than ~20%.
This June, a team led by Professor Xiaodong Xu (physics; materials science & engineering) discovered the first two-dimensional (2D) material with intrinsic magnetism: chromium triiodide (CrI3). This December, Xu, physics professor David Cobden, CEI Graduate Fellow Kyle Seyler, and graduate students Ding Zhong and Bevin Huang observed photoluminescence in monolayer CrI3 crystals, as detailed in a paper published in Nature Physics. This observation is a first for a magnetic monolayer, and curiously, the photoluminescence exhibits spontaneous circular polarization. The emitted light waves trace out a helix, where the clockwise or counterclockwise orientation is determined by the magnetization direction of CrI3. This circularly polarized photoluminescence does not require an external magnetic field, in contrast to similar phenomena in other materials. The UW team also studied bilayer CrI3, which did not exhibit circular polarization in its photoluminescence. This observation supports their previous finding: that CrI3 bilayers have zero net magnetization. These discoveries are promising for further magneto-optical studies, as well as novel magneto-optoelectronic devices and van der Waals heterostructures. Described as “atomic Lego,” these devices consist of artificially stacked monolayers held together by van der Waals intermolecular forces. Van der Waals heterostructures already show promise in next-generation solar cells, LEDs, and transistors, and the UW team’s investigations of CrI3 could expand these applications to include energy-efficient magnetic information processing and storage.
Shanyu Wang (left) and Mengyu Yan (right), pictured with the x-ray diffractometer (XRD) located at CEI’s Washington Clean Energy Testbeds. Photo: Owen Freed / University of Washington
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.
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.
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.
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.
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). Photo: Owen Freed / University of Washington
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.
“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.
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.
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).
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.
“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
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.
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!
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.