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.



CEI Research Highlights: January 2018

January 24, 2018

Scalable Planning for Energy Storage in Energy and Reserve Markets

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.

Self-Cleaning Surfaces for Solar Panels

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.”

Estimating Chemical Potential in Oxide-Supported Metal Nanoparticles

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%.

Helical Luminescence in a Two-Dimensional Magnet

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.


UW professor and Clean Energy Institute director Daniel Schwartz wins highest U.S. award for STEM mentors

Daniel Schwartz, a University of Washington professor of chemical engineering and director of the Clean Energy Institute. University of Washington

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.

WA Flexible Electronics Company and UW Team Win Federal Grant for Manufacturing

Roll-to-roll printing of high-density silver traces on a flexible substrate at the Testbeds. Image credit: Felippe Pavinatto

MicroConnex is partnering with UW professor J. Devin MacKenzie to develop a new manufacturing process for printed flexible electronics at the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds

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.


J. Devin MacKenzie, technical director of the Testbeds and professor of materials science & engineering and mechanical engineering at UW

“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.”


Close-up of the photopolymer plate (printing master) used for flexographic printing.
Image credit: Felippe Pavinatto

Ultra-high resolution silver conducting traces printed via flexography. Image credit: Felippe Pavinatto

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.

Clean Energy Solutions for Public Health in Puerto Rico

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.

Pushing Magnetic Materials to the Atomically-Thin Limit

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.

Inspiring Future Engineers

Gabriella Tosado building solar cars with middle school students. Photo: Tara Brown / University of Washington

Read the original story here.

Chelsea Yates
January 9, 2018

“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.

Gaby Tosado in the lab

In her research, Tosado explores how to develop and stabilize perovskite solar cells.

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.

Grabby teaching in an elementary class

Through CEI’s outreach ambassador program, Tosado travels across Washington state teaching students about clean energy and sustainable engineering. So far, the program has reached more than 40,000 students across the state. Photo: Tara Brown / University of Washington

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.

Students with electronics

“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,” says Tosado. Photo: Tara Brown / University of Washington

Why do you make time for outreach?

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!

Designing and Growing Quantum Materials for Energy and Information Technology

UW physics professor Jiun-Haw Chu takes a holistic approach to the development and characterization of materials with new or unusual electronic and magnetic properties.

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.

Quartz glassware from Chu’s lab, specially-made for crystal growth

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.

CEI Graduate Fellow Shua Sanchez, performing a glassware modification

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.

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. Photo: Owen Freed / University of Washington

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). 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.

Brian Johnson presenting on novel modeling techniques for networks within low-inertia power systems. Photo: Owen Freed / University of Washington

“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.

“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.