E8 Member Meetings

E8 (formerly known as Element 8) is a member organization of private accredited impact angel investors solely focused on investing in promising, early-stage cleantech companies. E8 partners with outstanding entrepreneurs from all across North America to build successful companies and bring their innovations to market.  Accredited Investors interested in membership in E8 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@e8angels.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 2018 through May 2019 (except October, which is reserved for the Energy Leadership Summit).

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



Solar researchers across country join forces with industry to boost U.S. solar manufacturing

US-MAP Consortium organizers and industry members

US-MAP Consortium organizers and industry members. Credit: Dennis Schroeder/NREL.


U.S. Manufacturing of Advanced Perovskites Consortium includes University of Washington, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, solar companies and universities throughout the nation


April 29, 2020


Working together with leading domestic solar companies, the University of Washington (UW) and its Washington Clean Energy Testbeds, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), and the University of Toledo (UT) have formed the U.S. Manufacturing of Advanced Perovskites Consortium (US-MAP). This research and development coalition aims to accelerate the domestic commercialization of perovskite technologies.


Perovskites are an emerging class of materials that can be inexpensively made from abundant elements and engineered to convert light to electricity at high efficiencies — ideal for solar energy. The universities and NREL will offer the participating companies access to, and support in, their complementary cleantech fabrication, characterization and testing facilities. In turn, representatives from each of the member companies will form an industry advisory board that will guide the efforts performed at the research institutions.


“US-MAP harnesses the power of the best perovskite researchers and resources in the nation to help U.S. solar companies continue to innovate and bring this exciting technology to market,” said J. Devin MacKenzie, UW materials science & engineering and mechanical engineering associate professor and Washington Clean Energy Testbeds technical director. “Indeed, UW’s Washington Clean Energy Testbeds, an open-access facility for developing and testing energy devices and systems, has been working with solar startups and we’re eager to help other U.S. companies tap into our staff scientists’ expertise and utilize our best-in-class instruments, including our multi-stage roll-to-roll printer for flexible electronics.”


US-MAP founding member companies include: BlueDot Photonics, Energy Materials Corporation, First Solar, Hunt Perovskites Technologies, Swift Solar and Tandem PV. As members of the industry advisory board, company representatives will shape R&D directions and priorities and will be engaged actively in selecting and evaluating projects. The founding organizers (UW, NREL, UNC, UT) will serve on the executive board and oversee delivery of projects.


BlueDot Photonics is a Seattle-based startup building next-generation solar panels and other photonic devices.


“US-MAP will help startups like ours access critical expertise required to prove manufacturability and product reliability, while maintaining ownership of intellectual property,” said BlueDot Photonics CEO Jared Silvia. “This network and its facilities will assist us in de-risking key hurdles to commercialization that will benefit all perovskite-based technologies. This will allow companies like ours to shorten the development cycle for products to satisfy customers and our investors.”


Washington Clean Energy Testbeds Technical Director J. Devin MacKenzie demonstrating the Testbeds' multi-stage roll-to-roll printer for flexible electronics.

Washington Clean Energy Testbeds Technical Director J. Devin MacKenzie demonstrating the Testbeds’ multi-stage roll-to-roll printer for flexible electronics. Credit: UW Clean Energy Institute

In addition to solar energy, perovskites have shown tremendous promise in a range of other technologies, including solid-state lighting, advanced radiation detection, dynamic sensing and actuation, photo-catalysis and quantum information science. Early investments by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office and its Office of Science into perovskite research at the founding organizations have enabled the U.S. to engage at the forefront of many of these technology areas and fostered a vibrant community of industrial leaders.


“Washington state has long been a leader in clean energy innovation and institutions like UW continue to play a critical role in moving our nation’s vital energy research needs forward,” said U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “I am encouraged by the work of UW’s Washington Clean Energy Testbeds and its potential for scaling up clean energy adoption — and perovskite technologies, in general — and will continue fighting in the Senate for strengthened investments in these research and technology developments that will help families and communities thrive.”


“UW has played an incredible role in renewable energy and is now bringing together some of the best researchers and innovators in the country to develop this next-generation technology to expand the use of solar to more homes and businesses across the country,” said U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA).


“This coalition represents what America does best: partnership for innovation and societal benefit,” said U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal, who represents Washington’s 7th Congressional District, which is home to UW. “The United States should and can lead in solar manufacturing, water power and wind energy — and I know Washington can play a role in getting us there through our outstanding public research institutions like the University of Washington and our promising startups.”


Researchers and companies looking to access resources, capabilities, and expertise within the US-MAP Consortium should visit www.nrel.gov/research/us-map.html.

Sharing clean energy science and engineering with Washington community colleges

Each summer, community college teachers work with UW faculty to bring new clean energy research to undergraduate labs.


February 18, 2020

Founded in 2016 with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Clean Energy Institute’s Research Experience for Teachers (RET) summer program places community college instructors in UW research groups. The instructors work closely with UW faculty and graduate students for six weeks to develop a clean energy curriculum and experiments to bring back to their undergraduate students.


Below, meet two recent alums of the program.


James Patterson, chemistry faculty at North Seattle College

Exploring next-generation solar energy


A man in a lab coat and goggles holds a test tube containing a red liquid.

Jim Patterson teaches organic chemistry at North Seattle College.


Gloved hands holding a small dish containing two small plastic solar cells

Prototype polymer solar cells from the Luscombe lab. (Matt Hagen / Clean Energy Institute)

Last summer, before embarking on his 16th year teaching organic chemistry at North Seattle College, Jim Patterson worked with UW materials science & engineering professor Christine Luscombe to design an experiment where students could create their own solar cells.


Conventional solar panels rely on silicon crystals to absorb the sun’s light and convert it into electricity. High-quality silicon crystals are expensive and energy-intensive to make, so Luscombe’s research group is working on an alternative: photovoltaic polymers, which are plastic-like chains of molecules that can absorb visible light and convert that energy into electricity in a similar manner to silicon. These polymers can be made into thin, lightweight solar cells in conditions that are accessible to an undergraduate lab. During Patterson’s six weeks in the Luscombe lab, he took a crash course in making one of these photovoltaic polymers, known as poly-3-hexathiolphene (P3HT). Then, he learned how to layer the P3HT onto the base of a solar cell by studying an experiment that was designed by a previous Clean Energy RET participant, an instructor at Green River College.


“I felt like I got to go back to grad school,” said Patterson, who is a UW alum and former lab tech for the UW chemistry department. “Being exposed to Christine’s level of knowledge gave me a sense of the big questions on the cutting edge of this field, and I’m grateful for her mentorship. As I continue to develop the experiment, I’d feel more than comfortable popping in to ask a question. Her grad students like Lorenzo Guio and Wes Tatum were also indispensable resources for me, teaching me tricks and subtleties to the reaction that you can’t get from a textbook!”


Close-up of a chemical reaction, with a white paper that describes the reaction in the foreground.

Synthesizing the photovoltaic polymer in Patterson’s lab at North Seattle College.

A hand holds a small test tube containing a clear red liquid.

The photovoltaic polymer P3HT before it is made into a solar cell.















Patterson has found success as an educator by making chemistry as hands-on as possible. In his course, students make soap, a few different hues of watercolor paint, and the same esters that give fruit candies their scents — all without advanced lab equipment. Synthesizing P3HT and layering it onto the device requires a more seasoned hand, so the solar cell project serves as a capstone to the course. Patterson knows the reward of seeing a handmade solar cell absorb light and produce current is worth the buildup.


“I’ve always felt compelled to put chemistry in context for my students,” he explained. “Ten years ago, I developed an experiment where students turned used french fry oil into biodiesel, and we talked about it in the context of oil and petroleum products. With this new lab, we talk about climate change and how solar panels can provide the energy of the future. I’m not just training scientists — I want to educate global citizens.”


Anthony Molinero, chemistry faculty at Grays Harbor College

Quantum dots for forensics


A man wearing glasses shines an ultraviolet flashlight onto a small container; the contents glow blue.

Tony Molinero teaches chemistry and forensics at Grays Harbor College.

Tony Molinero, an instructor at Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen, WA, first heard about the RET program by recommending students for CEI’s adjacent Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. After working for 18 years as a professor at the State University of New York at Potsdam, he had seen firsthand the value of immersing undergraduates in the cutting-edge science of a research lab. But since moving back to Washington state to take care of his elderly parents five years ago, he hadn’t had an opportunity to perform research himself.


“The RET was the perfect way for me to learn about a new area of chemistry,” said Molinero. “I had a lot of fun getting back into the lab, and I was also able to bring an exciting new project back to my students!”


Molinero worked with chemistry professor Brandi Cossairt to develop a lab based on quantum dots, which are tiny particles — 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair — that can be engineered to have unique electronic and photonic properties. Cossairt’s research group studies quantum dots for applications like energy-efficient LED technology, solar energy, and alternative fuels. Some of these quantum dots are made from materials like cadmium selenide, which is toxic to humans in large quantities and unsafe for the lower-tech conditions of an undergraduate lab. One of Cossairt’s graduate students, Michael Enright, suggested the perfect alternative: a benign, carbon-based quantum dot that can be made in a microwave.


A close-up of a small container with a glowing blue liquid.

Carbon-based quantum dots can be safely synthesized in an undergraduate lab.

“Once we found a simple, safe quantum dot, we searched through the literature for inspiration,” explained Molinero. “We found an article in which scientists had derived similar carbon quantum dots from charred pig intestines. By embedding the quantum dots in a plastic, they could make permanent casts of fingerprints! It was a perfect application for my forensics and introductory chemistry classes at Grays Harbor.”


Molinero’s version of the quantum dot fingerprint cast only takes one to two class periods to make. After one hour of synthesis and then 30 to 40 minutes of purification from a viscous, brick-red solution, the result is illuminating for students: the quantum dots can take the shape of a dusted fingerprint, and shine a brilliant blue under an ultraviolet light. While the technology isn’t yet being used by field forensic scientists, it’s just one of many ways that Molinero hopes his students can explore quantum dots.


Fingerprints glow in two rectangular pieces of plastic.

The quantum dots can be mixed into plastic and used to create permanent casts of fingerprints.

“Some of Brandi’s students are using quantum dots for green applications like hydrogen fuel,” said Molinero. “While I didn’t have time to explore all of these reactions during my six weeks in her lab, I feel empowered to do so in the future!”


Explore clean energy experiments for undergraduate classrooms and apply for CEI’s Research Experience for Teachers program here. K-12 teachers can apply for a similar RET opportunity through the UW Molecular Engineering Materials Center (MEM-C) here.

Powering the future of transportation

2019 chemistry Nobel Laureate M. Stanley Whittingham (third from left) gave a special lecture for UW battery researchers this fall. 

UW energy storage researchers are working with Nobel laureates to build a better battery for electric vehicles


February 3, 2020


Every day, billions of people across the planet rely on lithium-ion batteries to power essential devices like cellphones, laptop computers, power tools, and pacemakers. The technology is one of the most influential inventions of our lifetimes, and its major innovators — John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham, and Akira Yoshino — were recognized for their contributions to modern society with the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. But work is far from finished on the most pressing applications for these rechargeable batteries — electric vehicles. So, University of Washington (UW) researchers and Nobel laureates Goodenough and Whittingham are working together to build a better battery for electrified transportation.


Headshots of three men

Winners of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, from left: John B. Goodenough, Akira Yoshino, and M. Stanley Whittingham (University of Texas/EPA/Shutterstock; Shinji Kita/Kyodo News/AP; Jonathan Cohen/Binghamton University/AP)

With cars and trucks producing more than 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has made it a priority to support research that lowers the cost of electrifying vehicles. Advances in lithium battery technology could also lower the cost of grid-scale energy storage, which will be necessary to support the renewable grids of the future.


In 2016, the DOE formed Battery500, a national research consortium to build a smaller, lighter, and less expensive lithium-based battery for electric vehicles. Five universities, including UW, Binghamton University, and University of Texas-Austin (Whittingham and Goodenough’s home institutions, respectively), and four national laboratories are in the consortium led by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). Battery500 aims to more than double the amount of energy that a lithium-based battery can store for its weight — up to 500 watt-hours per kilogram (Wh/kg). The $50 million, five-year project represents a major effort to leap forward from the Nobel-winning technology, and UW researchers in multiple departments are key members of the team alongside Goodenough and Whittingham. Jun Liu, a UW materials science & engineering (MSE) and chemical engineering professor and Battelle Fellow at PNNL, is the director of the program. MSE chair and professor Jihui Yang is a key principle investigator, and Daniel Schwartz, director of the Clean Energy Institute (CEI) and chemical engineering professor, is a member of the project’s executive committee. Many of the UW team members perform their research at the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds, an open-access facility for fabricating prototypes, testing devices and modules, and integrating systems operated by CEI.


Washington Research Foundation Innovation Chair in Clean Energy and professor of materials science & engineering and chemical engineering Jun Liu

“It’s been an honor to work with Stan [Whittingham] and John [Goodenough] over the past few years,” says Liu. “The lithium-ion battery is one of the most important inventions in modern history, and they have been key principle investigators on the Battery500 project.” When Whittingham gave a special guest lecture at UW this past fall, Liu noted, “Stan has been a great role model of scientific integrity and teamwork on Battery500, sharing his knowledge of the whole battery field. He is an extraordinary example for young scientists.”


A group of students and teachers

Whittingham (second row, sixth from left) with a UW battery class.

Materials science and engineering postdoctoral researcher Xiaoyu Jiang

“Stan Whittingham and John Goodenough inspire me to work smarter,” says Xiaoyu Jiang, an MSE postdoc in Yang’s lab and a recipient of a Battery500 Young Investigator Award. Jiang is developing new materials for the cathode, anode and separator components of lithium-ion batteries that will increase battery safety and lifetimes. “At our quarterly meetings, they have provided me with useful suggestions, and have made sure I am approaching my projects with a holistic understanding of the system.”


While members of the Yang lab are engineering new materials, a chemical engineering cohort co-advised by Schwartz and Venkat Subramanian, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Texas-Austin, approaches the challenge of building a better battery from a mathematical perspective. Each of the chemical engineers uses models to understand the mechanisms of a battery in order to improve elements of its design.


Chemical engineering Ph.D. student Linnette Teo

Linnette Teo, a chemical engineering doctoral student and a CEI Graduate Fellow, is developing diagnostic tools that engineers can utilize both in the lab and in the field. “While I love studying batteries from a fundamental perspective, it can be easy to forget the importance of your research when you’re buried in those details,” she says. “But working with these established scientists on Battery500 and seeing the lithium-ion battery recognized with the Nobel prize reminds me of how groundbreaking our work can be.”


Akshay Subramaniam, also a chemical engineering doctoral student and CEI Graduate Fellow, is modeling the effects of pressure within a battery after working to optimize the physical structure of the cathodes for faster charge and discharge. He adds, “We’re standing on the shoulders of Goodenough, Whittingham, and Yoshino to build the future of transportation and energy storage, piece by piece.”


Chemical engineering Ph.D. student Akshay Subramaniam

The Battery500 consortium has made significant progress towards the program goals, creating 350 Wh/kg batteries that can be cycled over 200 times while maintaining acceptable levels of charge. Researchers will collaborate with outside scientists and members of industry in their push towards the goal of developing a 500 Wh/kg battery that can be charged and discharged over 1,000 times.


Collaborating for clean tech

This Q&A was originally published by the UW Molecular Engineering & Sciences Institute (MolES). Ted Cohen is a 4th year molecular engineering (MolE) Ph.D. student and CEI Graduate Fellow co-advised by chemistry professor Daniel Gamelin and materials science & engineering professors Christine Luscombe and Devin MacKenzie. MolES recently caught up with Cohen about his research and his experience in the MolE Ph.D. program. 


January 24, 2020


Molecular engineering Ph.D. student Ted Cohen

What brought you to the molecular engineering program at UW?

Originally, I planned to get a job after college that would utilize my undergraduate degree in chemical engineering. I looked into some positions at big oil companies, but quickly realized that their values and beliefs were at odds with my own. This led me to think about clean energy. I saw that much of the innovation in this space was coming out of universities, so I applied to grad school. While applying to the chemical engineering Ph.D. program here at UW, I learned about the MolE program. The MolE program’s focus on clean tech research was a great fit with my interest in clean energy.


How do you define molecular engineering?

In my view, molecular engineers seek to understand fundamental aspects of materials at a molecular level. Using this knowledge, molecular engineers attempt to design, from the bottom-up, new materials that preserve and exploit those unique properties for various real-world applications. Molecular engineering encompasses many different disciplines from chemical engineering and materials science, to basic science disciplines like chemistry and physics. Through the MolE program, I’ve learned to translate insights gained from basic research towards applied, engineering problems.


Tell us about your research.

My research involves perovskite nanocrystals. Clean energy scientists are especially interested in developing solar materials made of perovskite nanocrystals because they are excellent at converting light and are cheap to produce. Unfortunately, perovskite nanocrystals are not yet commercially viable in part because their inherent chemical instability leads them to degrade. I am working to develop a new method to effectively disperse and stabilize perovskite nanocrystals in a solid polymer for use in a variety of real-world applications.

One application we’ve looked at is luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs). LSCs are large, window-like devices made of a transparent piece of plastic or glass with florescent dyes or quantum dots embedded in it. They collect diffuse solar radiation and concentrate it at the edges of the device to generate electricity. To get these devices to work, we need a material that can absorb as much of the solar spectrum as possible and transfer that energy to silicon solar cells attached at the device edges. This increases the power generated by the solar cells.

In addition to LSCs, we are interested in using these materials for light-emitting diodes (LEDs), low energy, color specific lasers, and as photon sources for quantum computing.


You have three advisors! How has this impacted your research?

Having three advisors has really benefited my research because each advisor has unique, but related, expertise. My project initially focused on characterizing perovskite nanocrystals made in the Gamelin lab. Based on this research, we filed a patent for a novel LSC design. To use this material for other applications, we needed to find the right polymer to suspend and stabilize the material in a device. So, I worked with the Luscombe lab to develop a custom polymer that is compatible with perovskite nanocrystals. Now we are turning to the MacKenzie lab to figure out how to best process these materials using the printing resources available at the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds. I don’t think a collaboration like this would have been possible outside of molecular engineering. The great thing about this program is that you aren’t restricted to working with advisors from just one department. You really have the flexibility to follow your interests and facilitate new collaborations.


People in colorful shirts in front of a fountain

The Gamelin lab

Your advisors are all part of the Clean Energy Institute (CEI). What role has CEI played in your research experience at UW?

CEI is a big reason I decided to come to UW. As a molecular engineer focused on cleantech, I’ve used CEI resources and the research tools at their Testbeds facility quite frequently. I’ve also been able to tap into the CEI network by attending their seminars and biennial Orcas Conference and participating in their data science training program.


You mentioned you were a CEI DIRECT Data Science Trainee. Why was it important to you to gain data science skills?

From a practical research perspective, being able to manipulate complex data sets has made processing my data much faster and has substantially accelerated my research. I’ve also found that this skillset has helped me visualize my data better and communicate my science more clearly. I think data science skills will be useful when I’m looking for a job one day. Whether or not my role calls for these skills, it’s likely I’ll be working with data scientists, so understanding the things they care about – like decision trees and neural networks – will be beneficial.


You are a graduate professional and student senator. Why did you get involved?

At the start of the Trump administration in early 2017, a colleague reached out asking whether students at UW wanted to sign on to a letter to congress imploring them to ensure leaders of agencies – like the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy – had an appreciation for science. I worked with our student representative at that time, MolE alum Grant Williamson, to get a resolution passed to allow GPSS to sign on to that letter. The experience inspired me to become a student senator myself. It has been a great opportunity to help shape the broader graduate student experience at UW.


What do you want to do next?

At this point, I’m torn between academia and industry. Luckily, I still have some time to figure it out! If I go the academic route, I will look for a postdoctoral fellowship where I can apply some of the machine learning techniques I’ve learned to fundamental chemistry problems. Otherwise, I’m interested in an industry position that directly applies the cross-disciplinary skills I’ve acquired through the MolE program.


To learn more about the MolE Ph.D. program, visit moles.washington.edu/phd/

UW researchers win combined $5.9M from Department of Energy to advance solar technologies

Electrical & computer engineering professor Brian B. Johnson will develop power electronics to integrate solar with grid; BlueDot Photonics will develop new solar manufacturing technology


January 24, 2020


University of Washington (UW) clean energy researchers won a combined $5.9 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for two projects that will make solar-generated electricity more affordable. The DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) made a total of 75 awards in late 2019 in a $128 million effort to lower solar electricity costs, boost U.S. manufacturing, reduce administrative red tape, and make solar energy and the grid more resistant to cyberattacks.


Power electronics to integrate solar with the grid

UW electrical and computer engineering professor Brian B. Johnson

Brian B. Johnson, Washington Research Foundation (WRF) Innovation Assistant Professor of Clean Energy and Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE), leads a team receiving $4.9 million over the next three years to develop new control strategies to integrate solar photovoltaic systems and energy storage systems into the power grid. The proposed controllers will ensure grid stability at any level of renewable energy utilization. The team includes ECE professors Daniel Kirschen and Baosen Zhang, and partners at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Minnesota, Enphase Energy, and the Electric Power Research Institute. The team will contribute an additional $2.1 million in cost share, bringing the project total to $7 million. This work will enable grid operators to add increasing amounts of solar power onto the grid in a cost-effective, secure, resilient, and reliable manner.


Johnson has led another DO­E-backed project since 2018, collaborating with Kirschen, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the University of Colorado to halve the cost of inverters for solar systems — devices that convert solar-generated dc power into ac power that is usable by the power grid.


Manufacturing next-generation solar panels

UW spinoff BlueDot Photonics is a clean technology startup building next-generation solar panels and other photonic devices. The company was co-founded by UW CoMotion Commercialization Fellow Daniel Kroupa, named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30: Energy” list in 2019, UW alum and WRF Postdoctoral Fellow Matthew Crane (Ph.D. chemical engineering ’17), UW alum Jared Silvia (B.S. chemistry & biochemistry ’05), and UW chemistry professor Daniel Gamelin. BlueDot’s DOE-backed team will receive $1 million over the next 18 months to develop vapor deposition hardware for thin-film perovskite solar cells. Project partners include UW associate professor of materials science & engineering and mechanical engineering J. Devin MacKenzie and researchers at NREL.


BlueDot’s unique vapor deposition technology is a fast and cost-effective technique in which powder is turned directly to vapor to be evenly coated onto a surface — in this case, perovskites onto the base of a solar cell. Perovskites are an emerging class of materials that can be inexpensively made from common elements and engineered to have high-performing photovoltaic properties. BlueDot will be working at the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds, where MacKenzie is technical director.


BlueDot is one of seven companies backed by the DOE SETO for innovations in manufacturing. The awardees are expected to develop robust hardware prototypes that will attract follow-on private investment. BlueDot will contribute an additional $300,000 in cost share, for a project total of $1.3 million.


One of BlueDot Photonics’ coupon-sized solar module prototypes, fabricated at the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds.

A solar energy puzzle

“Graduate school is going to be hard no matter where you go,” says Emily Rabe, “but here it feels like there’s a group of people who will celebrate with you when things go well, and grab a consolation beer when they don’t.” (Corinne Thrash / UW College of Arts & Sciences)

originally published in the January 2020 Perspectives newsletter by the UW College of Arts & Sciences

By Nancy Joseph

Emily Rabe loves puzzles. In high school, she and her best friend happily spent their Friday nights with jigsaw puzzles and a half-gallon of ice cream. Rabe’s father built her a custom puzzle board to take to college in Minnesota, which she later brought to Seattle as a UW graduate student. Now Rabe is immersed in a puzzle of a different sort through her chemistry research.

“Instead of a thousand tangible puzzle pieces, I have hundreds of data files, dozens of journal articles, and a few scattered textbooks,” says Rabe, a fifth-year doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry. “But still, I start by making small connections, and piece by piece I get to build up the picture.”

Emily Rabe and a colleague conduct an experiment using UV light sources in a darkened room. (Corinne Thrash / UW College of Arts & Sciences)

Rabe works in the lab of Cody Schlenker, assistant professor of chemistry, researching the potential of sunlight as an energy source–specifically how light interacts with molecules interacting with other molecules. Rabe chose Schlenker’s lab based on her interest in clean energy, but also because of the camaraderie she encountered there.

“People in the lab were just so excited to be doing science, it almost didn’t seem like work,” Rabe recalls. “They just loved playing with optics and lasers. It was a really great atmosphere.”

Like her colleagues, Rabe is passionate about her research, which seeks to harness solar energy without using expensive or toxic materials. One focus of her work is the use of hydrogen molecules for fuel. The idea is not new — there are hydrogen cars on the road — but currently 98 percent of the hydrogen used for fuel is produced using methane or natural gas, releasing carbon dioxide (CO2) in the process. Rabe and other researchers are exploring a cleaner approach to producing hydrogen, using energy from sunlight to generate hydrogen molecules from water.

Though Rabe conducts most of her research in the Schlenker lab, she also has access to the resources of the UW’s Clean Energy Institute (CEI) as a CEI Graduate Fellow. She finds interactions with CEI researchers from across campus particularly valuable. “As part of the fellowship program, we go to seminars that are not always on chemistry or solar energy,” says Rabe. “They might be about how we manage the grid, or how to make batteries that last longer. I think that kind of breadth has really helped frame and motivate my research. It lets me see what’s actually useful in the bigger picture.”

Before being named a CEI Graduate Fellow, Rabe received the Paul H. and Karen S. Gudiksen Endowed Fellowship in Chemistry, awarded to a promising applicant to encourage them to study at the UW. For Rabe, the award’s significance was not just the financial support. As a graduate of a small liberal arts college, she had less research experience than many other applicants and wondered if she belonged at the UW. “The fact that the department not only accepted me but offered me this fellowship helped me feel like I did belong here,” she says. “It helped fight imposter syndrome.”

Using lasers and LEDs, Emily Rabe studies how light interacts with molecules. (Corinne Thrash / UW College of Arts & Sciences)

When Rabe arrived at graduate school, she already knew what to expect thanks to Nick Montoni, whom she befriended during a Chemistry Department recruitment weekend. Montoni started his graduate studies a year before Rabe, who deferred her enrollment to work at Argonne National Laboratory that year. But they stayed in touch, with Rabe seeking Montoni’s advice about when to start looking for housing in Seattle, how to navigate the city without a car, how to make the most of Chemistry Department research opportunities, and more. “It was like I had a secret ‘in,’” Rabe recalls. “I had someone I could ask all my millions of questions to before I got to campus. I had no idea how valuable that was until I arrived and realized that a lot of my cohort wasn’t so lucky.”

Rabe and Montoni decided to change that. They created the Mentorship Network, which matches incoming chemistry graduate students with current graduate students so that the new students can ask questions long before they arrive. (Montoni has since earned his PhD.) Rabe also serves as co-president of Inclusion in Chemical Sciences at UW (InCS), a graduate student group that offers camaraderie and skill building through workshops, guest speakers, science outreach to K-12 schools, and other activities.

The Department of Chemistry funds InCS, which in turn funds the Mentorship Network. Rabe believes that the Department’s support of such programs has had a meaningful impact on her graduate student experience.

“In our department, we really have a strong sense of community,” she says. “Graduate school is going to be hard no matter where you go, but here it feels like there’s a group of people who will celebrate with you when things go well, and grab a consolation beer when they don’t.”

They might even help with a jigsaw puzzle.

Energy software entrepreneur joins Washington Clean Energy Testbeds to coach cleantech startups

Scott Case named new Entrepreneur-in-Residence at University of Washington cleantech facility

December 19, 2019

Scott Case, former chief operating officer of EnergySavvy, an energy efficiency software company that was acquired earlier this year, is the new Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) at the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds. As EIR at the Testbeds, an open-access facility for developing and testing energy devices and systems, Case mentors entrepreneurs and advises early-stage, cleantech startup companies on: team formation, product development, strategic marketing, fundraising, manufacturing strategy, and business development. His weekly office hours are free and open to aspiring and established cleantech entrepreneurs and business teams.


“I’m proud to serve the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds’ mission to help impactful clean energy technologies get to market and succeed,” said Case. “Over the past decade, I’ve learned a great deal about building a company that solves critical customer needs while having a positive societal impact, and I love sharing that knowledge with entrepreneurial students, researchers, and the broader cleantech community.”


Scott joined the Testbeds after ten years at EnergySavvy, a company that built software for electric and natural gas utilities to manage and analyze their energy efficiency programs and customer engagement. Scott led product and company strategy, helped raise five funding rounds and ran the M&A process that led to its acquisition by Tendril, now Uplight.


“Scott’s energy startup experience and passion for helping other cleantech innovators will benefit clean energy students and the region’s cleantech community,” said Washington Clean Energy Testbeds Technical Director Devin MacKenzie. “Our Entrepreneurs in Residence are one of the many critical resources—including access to our expert research staff and top-shelf instruments—that the Testbeds is pleased to offer and see benefit so many budding clean energy leaders.”


Case is also the co-founder and board chair of Ada Developers Academy, a nonprofit, tuition-free coding school for women and gender diverse adults. He earned an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management and a BA from Williams College.


Case works alongside the Testbeds’ Investor-in-Residence, Jeff Canin, who joined the team in 2017. Canin is a member of the Board of Directors at E8, a cleantech angel investment group, and a co-manager of E8’s venture fund. Canin provides free consultations on funding proposals, financial strategy, fundraising, and strategic partnerships to cleantech entrepreneurs and startups via regular office hours at the Testbeds. In this role, he has also hosted several events with other E8 members for the cleantech community on identifying funding sources and raising startup financing.


Previous Testbeds’ EIRs include Ramkumar (Ram) Krishnan and John Plaza. Krishnan is the former president and chief technology officer at NantEnergy, an Arizona-based company that produces grid-scale, rechargeable metal-air batteries. He currently advises several cleantech startups. Plaza is the board chair of Membrion, Inc., a University of Washington spinout company focused on ceramic membranes for clean water, lower-cost grid storage solutions, and longer lasting batteries. Plaza was introduced to Membrion at the Testbeds, where the company is a user. He also advises LanzaTech, a carbon recycling company.


To set up office hours with Case or Canin, contact Washington Clean Energy Testbeds Managing Director Mike Pomfret at mpomfret@uw.edu.

Five CEI faculty among world’s most influential researchers

UW professors Guozhong Cao, Jiun-Haw Chu, Alex K-Y. Jen, Jun Liu, and Xiaodong Xu make Web of Science Group’s list of Highly Cited Researchers

December 18, 2019

Five Clean Energy Institute (CEI) researchers are among the most influential in the world, according to the annual Highly Cited Researchers list published by the Web of Science Group. Professors Guozhong Cao, Jiun-Haw Chu, professor emeritus Alex K-Y. Jen, Jun Liu, and Xiaodong Xu were named to the list, which identifies researchers that produced multiple publications in the top 1% of citations for their field and year of publication over the past decade — this year’s edition covers the time period from 2008 through 2018.


“I’m proud to see five of our extraordinary clean energy faculty recognized for producing impactful research,” said CEI Director and Boeing-Sutter Professor of Chemical Engineering Dan Schwartz. “Across many different fields, they are leading the charge towards a clean energy future, and they also serve as exceptional educators and role models for our students.”



Guozhong Cao

Guozhong Cao, the Boeing-Steiner Professor of Materials Science & Engineering, professor of chemical engineering, and adjunct professor of mechanical engineering, was highlighted for his “cross-field” research on nanostructured materials. The Cao group primarily investigates energy-related applications including solar cells, rechargeable batteries, supercapacitors, catalysts, and sensors. Cao is an authority in the field of nanotechnology, authoring and editing scientific journals, conference proceeds, and books on the subject along with publishing over 600 peer-reviewed papers.




Jiun-Haw Chu

Jiun-Haw Chu, the Washington Research Foundation Innovation Assistant Professor of Clean Energy and Physics, was listed among the most cited researchers in physics. Chu’s research is centered on the design, growth and characterization of new materials with quantum properties. His research is on the cutting edge of both energy and information technology, including applications like high-temperature superconductors and topological insulators. A rising star in the field of quantum materials, he has also received awards from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers.




Alex K-Y. Jen

Alex K-Y. Jen, professor emeritus of materials science & engineering, was recognized for his cross-field research on the design and synthesis of functional polymers. These polymers could form the basis of next-generation printable solar cells, as well as optics and biotechnology. Jen is currently Provost at the City University of Hong Kong.





Jun Liu, the Washington Research Foundation Innovation Chair in Clean Energy, Campbell Chair Professor of Materials Science & Engineering, and professor of chemical engineering, was listed among the most cited researchers in chemistry and materials science. Liu investigates new materials for energy, biomedicine, environmental, transportation, and communications applications. He also serves as the director of Battery500, a multi-institute initiative backed by the U.S. Department of Energy that aims to triple the energy that can be stored in a lithium-ion battery for the next generation of electric vehicles. Earlier this year, Liu joined UW from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), where he still maintains a Battelle Fellowship.



Xiaodong Xu

Xiaodong Xu, a professor of physics and materials science & engineering, was listed among the most cited researchers in the field of physics. Xu is well-known for his work with two-dimensional materials — just atoms thick — that can be engineered to have unique optical, electronic, and magnetic properties. These materials can be layered like “atomic Lego,” and could become the foundation of next-generation solar cells, LEDs, transistors, and energy-efficient information processing and storage.



For more information about the Highly Cited Researchers list and its methodologies, visit the Web of Science website.


X-ray spectroscopy for all

UW and easyXAFS win Small Business Technology Transfer grant to develop low-cost, tabletop x-ray spectrometer for undergraduate education and battery research and development

November 25, 2019

easyXAFS, a startup founded by UW physics alum Dr. Devon Mortensen (Ph.D. ’16), received $160,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) under a Phase I Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant to develop a low-cost, tabletop x-ray spectrometer in collaboration with UW physics professor Jerry Seidler. easyXAFS’ new device, called xAristotle, will be the first such device targeted at undergraduate labs and industrial energy storage scientists. The NSF STTR program provides funding and entrepreneurial support to startups and small businesses to help bring innovative, disruptive technologies out of the lab and into the market.


Scientists use advanced x-ray spectroscopy to precisely determine a material’s chemical and electronic structure at the atomic scale, allowing them to characterize new materials for catalysis and study chemical reactions in next-generation batteries, among other applications. Previously, it was only possible to perform these advanced x-ray spectroscopies at $1 billion particle accelerator facilities, known as synchrotrons. Under this model, the techniques were restricted to researchers at universities or national labs, or to experienced scientists with the resources to travel long distances and reserve precious time on one of the machines. For the past several years, easyXAFS has been creating table-top solutions to this billion-dollar barrier, and its new device will provide entry-level access to this technology for the first time. xAristotle will be the size of a microwave oven and affordable for undergraduate labs and industrial quality control, while still having sufficient performance for some academic research programs.


Dr. Devon Mortenson and a colleague with an early x-ray instrument

Dr. Devon Mortensen (left) developed new x-ray instrumentation that would become the technology base for easyXAFS while pursuing his Ph.D. in physics as a UW Clean Energy Institute Graduate Fellow.


“Thanks to this STTR grant, xAristotle will permit scientists and startups to use these techniques in their own labs — without having to apply for access to huge synchrotrons far from home,” said Mortensen, the CEO of easyXAFS and a former UW Clean Energy Institute (CEI) Graduate Fellow.


easyXAFS has been building the market for in-house equipment for advanced x-ray methods since 2015, expanding upon the base technology developed in Seidler’s lab with partial funding from CEI. The company has already made sales in six countries and has recently reached a distribution agreement in China and Southeast Asia. The NSF STTR award will enable easyXAFS to refine the xAristotle technology and to investigate how to best incorporate advanced x-ray spectroscopy into the undergraduate curriculum in chemistry, chemical engineering, materials science, and physics.


Headshot of UW physics professor Gerald T. Seidler

UW physics professor Gerald T. (Jerry) Seidler.

“As a low-cost, small, and easy-to-use device, we’re designing xAristotle to be like a learner’s permit for advanced x-ray spectroscopy,” explained Mortensen. “History tells us that when instrument access finally happens at the entry level, there is likely to be an explosion of new applications, users, and demand. We think there could be a major market for these instruments, given the potential impacts on analytical chemistry, battery research, industrial quality control, and undergraduate education.”


As part of the STTR-funded project, Seidler is developing ways to teach these advanced x-ray spectroscopy techniques to undergraduate students and industrial users. “The idea for a truly simple, very inexpensive x-ray spectrometer for battery research and education came from our own experiences in the lab, and especially our work in the Clean Energy Institute,” Seidler said. “Working with many colleagues at UW and elsewhere, we keep finding important uses of these methods that do not fit the access model for synchrotron x-ray facilities. We’re excited to help democratize these spectroscopies with xAristotle.”


easyXAFS is an alumni startup of the Cascadia CleanTech Accelerator, a business accelerator program run by the CleanTech Alliance and VertueLab. Upon completion of Phase I STTR work in late 2020, easyXAFS will become eligible for Phase II NSF funding up to $750,000.



Corie Cobb receives DARPA Young Faculty Award

September 11, 2019

Corie L. Cobb, Washington Research Foundation Innovation Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering and Clean Energy, is the recipient of a 2019 Young Faculty Award from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The DARPA Young Faculty Award (YFA) recognizes rising research stars who hold junior faculty positions at U.S. academic institutions, with the goal of developing the next generation of academic scientists, engineers and mathematicians who will focus a significant portion of their career on Department of Defense (DoD) and National Security needs. Award winners receive research funding, mentorship and DoD contact opportunities.

Cobb will receive nearly $500,000 over two years for her project, “Additive Manufacturing for High-Energy-and-Power Multi-functional 3D Batteries.” The  award will allow her to advance her research on new battery electrode architectures and packaging integration. Cobb’s work broadly focuses on making advances in energy storage through new design and additive manufacturing methods. Visit her lab website to learn more about her research group.

At the UW, Cobb is a member of the Clean Energy Institute and the Molecular Engineering & Sciences Institute.

The New York Times: Soap, detergent and even laxatives could turbocharge a battery alternative

Researchers are trying to develop options to lithium-ion and other batteries in a quest for quick bursts of power and extended energy storage.

Dan Schwartz, CEI Director and Boeing-Sutter Professor of Chemical Engineering, provides insight throughout the article.


Aug. 22, 2019

Living in a world with smartphones, laptops and cars powered by batteries means putting up with two things: waiting for a depleted battery to charge, and charging it more frequently when its once-long life inevitably shortens.

That’s why the battery’s cousin, the supercapacitor, is still in the game, even though batteries dominate electricity storage.

“There are circumstances where you don’t need a lot of energy, but you need a very quick surge of power,” said Daniel Schwartz, a chemical engineer who leads the Clean Energy Institute at the University of Washington.

For example, Dr. Schwartz’s new car has start-stop technology, which is common in vehicles in the European Union to meet stringent emission standards. Start-stop systems demand that the car’s starter battery deliver big bursts of power whenever the engine starts or stops, and that it recharge quickly to keep up. That is taxing for a battery, but it is a piece of cake for a supercapacitor.

Commercially, supercapacitors fell behind because they can’t store as much energy as batteries do. Today, they are used in niche applications like helping wind turbines cope with fluctuating winds.

But as demand for energy storage grows, whether to support electric vehicles or intermittent renewable power, scientists and consumers are keeping up their search for alternatives to conventional lithium-ion batteries.

A battery’s limited lifetime means it needs to be replaced every few years. In grid storage, that could generate a hefty amount of electronic waste. Batteries also pose a fire risk — manageable in a smartphone but dangerous in a vehicle or power plant.

In a study this month in the journal Nature Materials, researchers reported a new phenomenon that could potentially bring a supercapacitor’s energy storage capacity on par with lithium-ion batteries: by using a new class of electrolytes composed of ionic liquids, or salts that remain liquid at room temperature.

The materials are abundant: The molecular components in this novel class of liquid salts are found in soaps, detergents and even stool softeners.

Supercapacitors charge quickly but store little energy because all the action takes place only at the interface where its solid components — the electrodes — and its liquid component — the electrolyte — meet. In contrast, a battery brings its charge inside the electrodes and thus uses the full volume of the electrodes for storage.

“Think of an electrode as a sponge,” said Dr. Schwartz, who was not involved in the study. “The battery soaks water up into all of the sponge, whereas the supercapacitor just has it on the surface of each pore.”

Xianwen Mao, a chemical engineer at Cornell University and the lead author of the study, had been working in a research group led by Alan Hatton at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to improve the surface of a supercapacitor’s electrodes. But then, a few years ago, Paul Brown, a chemist who studied ionic liquids, worked with Dr. Mao to focus on creating new electrolytes instead.

In the M.I.T. lab, Dr. Brown prepared new ionic liquids from positively and negatively charged ions that were significantly different in size. Crucially, the negatively charged ions were also common surface-active agents, or surfactants: giant molecules carrying a long, water-repelling tail while holding their negative charge on their water-loving heads.

When the ionic liquids were first tested in a prototype supercapacitor, Dr. Mao did not observe any significant improvement in energy storage capacity. But he didn’t abandon the idea. Noticing that the liquids were quite viscous, he decided to heat up the experiment. At 130 degrees Celsius and above, the prototype’s energy storage capacity abruptly spiked.

To understand this sudden improvement in energy storage capacity, the researchers looked at what was happening at the electrode-electrolyte interface. It turned out that the giant, negatively charged surfactant ions had corralled the small, positively charged ions into squeezing and huddling on the supercapacitor’s electrodes while their tails intertwined into a network.

Surfactants are known to self-assemble — for example, when a soap bubble forms. This self-assembly phenomenon was observed for the first time at the electrode-electrolyte interfaces, Dr. Mao said.

The high concentration of positively charged ions on the electrode means the supercapacitor packs more energy in less space. The researchers have applied for a patent to use the ionic liquids as supercapacitor electrolytes.

“They really laid out a clear set of design principles,” Dr. Schwartz said, adding that he expected to see “lots of follow-up work” based on this design.

“Like almost all research in energy storage systems, it’s not about one breakthrough electrode or a breakthrough in the electrolyte,” he said. “It’s about the whole system and how stable is that system, how well does it perform, what are the degradation mechanisms, and how much does it cost.”

Other than energy storage, the researchers think that, with some modifications, these ionic liquids could find practical uses in drug delivery or carbon dioxide capture. Researchers are now working to convert the ionic liquids into gel-like solids by linking the molecules into a network. They expect the gels to trap or release molecules, such as drugs or carbon dioxide, in a controlled fashion upon electrical stimulation, Dr. Mao said.

But perhaps what excites Dr. Mao the most is that these new ionic liquid electrolytes are made from everyday molecules, of which there is a huge variety of commercialized options to choose from.

“All of the starting materials are very inexpensive,” he said. “Just think about soaps and detergents.”

Read via the New York Times

Chemistry on deck and in the classroom

Chemistry doctoral candidate and Clean Energy Institute Education & Training Fellow Erin Jedlicka works with Maliya, a 5th-grader at Hilltop Elementary in Lynnwood, WA. (Dennis Wise / UW Photo)

By Owen Freed

August 19, 2019


When Erin Jedlicka was a United States Navy Surface Warfare Officer on the USS Shoup, she was responsible for maintaining and operating the ship’s advanced systems. She quickly learned that an understanding of fundamental science was key to the job, as it governs daily life aboard.

“Chemistry is used to put out fires that could sink your ship and to disinfect spaces to prevent the entire crew from getting sick,” explains Jedlicka, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2012 and completed a three-year commission based in Everett, WA in 2015. “It purifies the water we drink, and is one way used to create oxygen on submarines so the crew can breathe. Navy sailors spend countless hours cleaning off rust and repainting ships to mitigate the reaction between steel and seawater.”

From the Navy to graduate school

After completing her Naval service, Jedlicka enrolled at the UW and joined Professor David Ginger’s lab group to pursue a chemistry Ph.D. Now in her fourth year, she is researching materials for next-generation solar panels, including perovskites and quantum dots — specially-engineered crystals that can be used to make solar panels more efficient and less expensive.


Jedlicka works with new materials for clean energy in David Ginger’s lab. (Matt Hagen / Clean Energy Institute)


“I decided to pursue my doctoral degree because I saw how important it was to change the perception of chemistry from ‘an unreasonably hard college course that will never apply to real situations,’” says Jedlicka. “Despite the vital chemistry going on all around us, there was fear and misunderstanding of chemistry and ‘chemicals’ throughout my Navy crew. That sense of fear and misunderstanding doesn’t just apply to the Navy — it has huge costs around the world.”

Making science accessible 

In her second year as a graduate student, Jedlicka participated in her first K-12 outreach event with the UW’s Clean Energy Institute (CEI) and was inspired by the enthusiasm she saw from young students. She then applied for the CEI Education & Training Fellowship, and has led visits to more than 50 schools, libraries, and science fairs around Washington state this year. A recent visit to Lynnwood’s Hilltop Elementary School was particularly special — her boyfriend’s daughter, Haley, is a 5th grade student there.


As the Clean Energy Institute’s Education Fellow, Jedlicka talks to young students about renewable energy and power grids. (Dennis Wise / UW Photo)


“What do you think I do?” Jedlicka asks the students.

Haley exclaims, “She works with lasers!” “Oohs” and “ahhs” ring out. Jedlicka then asks them to guess the land area that could generate enough power for the entire United States if covered in solar panels. It’s actually less than one percent, just a small corner of Arizona or Nevada.

“Why haven’t we done that already?” asks one student.

“Well, just think of a cell phone,” Jedlicka replies. “It’s as thick as it is because of the battery, and it doesn’t even last very long. What if we needed a battery for a whole city, or the whole country? I’m working on better solar panels, and engineers are making better batteries and a smarter power grid so we can get that power where it needs to go.”

Her simplified explanation of the photons and electrons in solar panels seems to fly over some heads, but the real-world effect becomes clear as the students get to work on their “solar spinners.” The students carefully tape the wires of small motors to the edges of wafer-thin silicon solar cells, then enclose the contraptions inside petri dishes and line up to place their spinners under a high-intensity lamp. Sure enough, the motors start to turn. But for those whose spinners won’t spin, Jedlicka comes to the rescue, carefully re-taping wires and helping replace cracked panels. As one student’s spinner finally whirrs to life after several adjustments, she says with a smile, “This is what a career in science is!”


  Students at Hilltop Elementary (Lynnwood, WA) attach small motors to solar panels. The devices spin when exposed to sunlight or a high-intensity lamp. (Dennis Wise / UW Photo)


A group of intrepid students asks to test their spinners out on the blacktop of the school’s playground. Maliya notes that hers is spinning even faster under the grey spring sky than it did under the lamp. “It goes to show you how a solar panel can still power your house when it’s cloudy!” Jedlicka explains.

Michael proclaims, “I want my parents to put solar panels on the roof of our house!”

Kamryn declares her excitement for middle school, just a summer away. “STEM class is my favorite,” she says, “and I especially love chemistry. And explosions!”

Moments like these are Jedlicka’s favorite part of volunteering with K-12 students. “I really believe the impact of our outreach is more than just a fun science lesson,” she says. “When you ask a kid what they want to be when they grow up, they’ll pick a career they know about, like sports or being a movie star. I want to show students what it’s like to be a scientist and help make them comfortable with science, rather than scared of it. Their future is one in which clean energy is the main source of electricity, and any of them could be one of the scientists and engineers making it possible.”


A future Husky assembles a solar spinner. (Dennis Wise / UW Photo)


After she completes her Ph.D., Jedlicka sees her own future in education. She hopes to combine her love of chemistry, teaching, and service as a professor at a small university or community college — where she can continue to inspire the clean energy leaders of tomorrow.


K-12 teachers can request a classroom visit from CEI’s Education Fellow and volunteer Clean Energy Ambassadors here.

Clean, scalable materials for batteries and beyond

ME doctoral student Elizabeth Rasmussen adjusts settings as she prepares to use the novel flow reactor she’s developed for MOF materials synthesis. Dennis Wise / University of Washington

CEI Graduate Fellow Elizabeth Rasmussen is developing a low-cost, low-waste flow reactor for metal-organic frameworks, setting the stage for innovation in batteries, targeted drug delivery and more.

By Chelsea Yates

August 12, 2019


To explain her research — which centers on thermodynamics, heat transfer and a class of materials called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs)— Elizabeth Rasmussen often turns to a kitchen favorite: the chocolate chip cookie.

“MOFs consist of metal ions and organic linkers, and because they’re highly porous and have an ultrahigh surface area, they are excellent candidates for applications ranging from targeted drug delivery to alternative energy storage devices, such as batteries,” the mechanical engineering (ME) doctoral student explains.


“This is my dissertation project,” says Rasmussen, here with MOtiF Materials teammate and ME graduate student Stuart Moore gathering data in an Institute for Nano-Engineered Systems lab. “Before exploring business opportunities, I want to make sure the research is 100%.” Dennis Wise / University of Washington


In cookie terms, Rasmussen says to think of the metal ions as chocolate chips and the organic linkers as the dough. But she’s quick to add that she’s not focused on changing the cookie recipe; what she’s developing is a new way to cook the dough.

A National Science Foundation Research Trainee in the UW eScience Institute and a Clean Energy Institute (CEI) fellow, Rasmussen is investigating how to innovate MOF materials synthesis in a scalable, cost-effective and sustainable way. To produce them on a large scale and make MOF materials more broadly available, this synthesis step is critical; it’s the key ingredient in her research, which draws from mechanical engineering, materials science and manufacturing.

And she’s off and running: The team she founded earlier this year — MOtiF Materials — took first in the 2019 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) for demonstrating how their work with MOFs can make batteries degrade less quickly over time.


Powder MOF deposited onto a silicon wafer for analysis. Dennis Wise / University of Washington

MOtiF Materials technology

Smartphone owners are well aware of the frequent need to charge their phones. What if a phone’s battery life could last 10 times longer than it does now? Research suggests that MOF-based batteries could make this possible.

To synthesize MOFs for battery use, Rasmussen has developed a novel flow reactor. It’s the “oven” in her baking analogy. Current battery manufacturing processes create a lot of toxic waste; Rasmussen’s reactor produces almost zero waste. It’s also able to synthesize MOFs in a matter of seconds, as opposed to traditional methods which can take days.

A specialized reactor with cleaner performance and higher yield may seem expensive. Not so, Rasmussen says.

“Because our process is conducted at mild temperatures, it allows us to collect and recycle unused chemicals, we can create MOFs for considerably less than current options on the market,” she explains.

It’s this method that sets MOtiF Materials apart from its competitors, who tend to focus more on the “recipe” for creating MOFs, not the scalable manufacturing method needed to make MOFs more widely available.


Rasmussen prepares a MOF sample for analysis at the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds. Dennis Wise / University of Washington

“It’s all about the science”

Though there’s momentum for innovation like MOtiF Materials in the startup sector, for now, Rasmussen says she’s committed to the research. “This is my dissertation project,” she explains. “Before exploring business opportunities, I want to make sure the research is 100%.”

A commitment to research was the main reason Rasmussen decided to enroll at the UW for graduate school. A summer internship at MIT Lincoln Laboratory solidified her desire to be part of a research community. “I was in awe of the way that the researchers interacted,” she remembers. “Even when they challenged each other, it wasn’t to be competitive, and responses were humble. It all stemmed from their shared commitment to the mission.”

Rasmussen sees much of the same collaborative spirit across the UW.

“CEI has helped me as a researcher in so many ways — with community, facilities and funding,” she says. “Without it, MOtiF Materials wouldn’t exist.”

The same goes for her experience with the UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, which hosts the EIC every spring.


The MOtiF Materials team won first place at the 2019 Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge. From left to right: Kirk Myers, Director of Sustainability at Alaska Airlines; Elizabeth Rasmussen; ME graduate student Stuart Moore; Molly Foley, BSME ’19; and ME graduate student Courtney Otani. Matt Hagen / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship

“The EIC opens up so many possibilities,” she remarks. “Along with providing a friendly environment to apply business and marketing skills, it’s helped me establish a network of professionals, potential partners and mentors.”

Rasmussen also cites her ME faculty advisers Corie Cobb, John Kramlich, and Igor Novosselov for their support. “They have years of experience with science, engineering and technology translation,” she says. “I value their expertise and really take their input to heart.”

Though MOtiF Materials’ focus has been on MOFs related to energy storage, Rasmussen is eager to consider its broader potential.

“Starting with energy storage technology is important because if you can improve that, you impact all other clean energy technologies,” she explains. “MOtiF Materials’ reactor technology is a platform — it can be used to synthesize much more than just battery-related MOFs, and I can’t wait to extend it in other directions, like targeted drug delivery and water vapor capture.”

For now, Rasmussen intends to optimize her design, finish securing intellectual property and publish her findings to the broader scientific community. While ultimately she’d like to work in a research and development laboratory, she hasn’t ruled out turning MOtiF Materials into a business.

“In the future I may decide to move forward with creating a startup,” she says. “But for now, it’s all about the science.”

This article was originally published by the University of Washington Department of Mechanical Engineering. 

Professor Cody Schlenker Wins National Science Foundation CAREER Award

Schlenker will research photochemistry for solar energy, other sustainability applications under NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program

June 25, 2019

Headshot of Professor Cody W. Schlenker

Cody W. Schlenker, WRF Innovation Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Clean Energy

Cody W. Schlenker, Washington Research Foundation Innovation Assistant Professor in Chemistry and Clean Energy, has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award. The CAREER program offers the NSF’s most prestigious awards for early-career faculty, supporting professors with the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Schlenker will receive $685,000 over 5 years to develop a rational understanding of photochemistry — reactions driven by energy from light that is absorbed by a molecule.

“This NSF award will allow my group to target new types of photochemical reactivity with the potential to fundamentally alter research approaches in solar energy storage and other fields,” said Schlenker. “Photochemistry is both ubiquitous and seemingly simple, but thoroughly exploring a reaction often reveals a complex multistep process that is difficult to control. We’ll develop a set of tools that will allow us to understand and control light-driven reactions step-by-step, and later we can develop an optimal molecule for a given reaction or application.”

The building blocks of renewable energy

Schlenker first joined UW in 2011 as a postdoctoral NSF Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) Fellow, studying novel semiconducting polymers with chemistry professor David Ginger and life cycle assessment of emerging energy technologies with mechanical engineering professor Joyce Cooper.

“Through my NSF SEES fellowship, I was able to branch out from my core discipline of chemistry to reflect on the sustainable development of renewable energy technologies,” explained Schlenker. “It forced me to think about technological development from ‘cradle to grave,’ which means accounting for all of the energy and material ins and outs over the lifetime of a device. Even if we develop the perfect photovoltaic that’s cheap, efficient, and easy to manufacture and install, we will still require new ways to store that excess energy.”

This holistic view of technology has shaped Schlenker’s research trajectory since becoming a faculty member of the chemistry department and the Clean Energy Institute (CEI) in 2014. He investigates the fundamental science behind using light as a renewable energy source, including photovoltaics as well as the underlying principles of battery materials and solar fuel generation. The focus of his CAREER Award research is on nitrogen-containing molecules called aza-aromatics, known for their adaptable light-absorbing and electronic properties. By leveraging the interaction between aza-aromatic molecules and water, Schlenker believes there is a real opportunity to identify new molecular design strategies for artificial photosynthesis, with the potential for scientists and engineers to more efficiently create fuels directly from sunlight and water. Aza-aromatic materials have also been utilized in various photovoltaic devices and next-generation battery platforms.


Test samples of photovoltaic materials from the Schlenker lab (Matt Hagen/Clean Energy Institute)

Sustainable research infrastructure at UW

Schlenker cites the research and teaching network at UW as a significant factor in the success of his lab.

“Throughout the university, there are multiple layers of close-knit partnerships that have been seeded and cultivated on the basis of years of mutual trust and understanding,” he shared. “At CEI, director Dan Schwartz has fostered an institute that acts as a support network for its researchers. Chemistry department chairs Mike Heinekey and Paul Hopkins have also exemplified this model, and we can leverage these partnerships to create and operate shared user facilities.”

When Schlenker established his research group, he partnered with UW researchers in chemistry, materials science & engineering, and chemical engineering to bring a versatile laser system for advanced kinetics experiments to the Molecular Analysis Facility (MAF). Located in the Molecular Engineering and Sciences Building (MolES), MAF is an instrumentation facility for microscopy, spectroscopy, and surface science that is open to UW users and external users from academia and industry. Using these advanced laser spectroscopies, Schlenker and his group can capture a molecule in its excited state after it absorbs light, similar to high-speed digital imaging. This capability is crucial for his research, especially under the CAREER grant, as it allows Schlenker’s group to understand where and how quickly energy will move within a molecule, or how that molecule might react with another at a different energy level.


Inside the ultrafast laser system in the UW Molecular Analysis Facility (Cody Schlenker/Clean Energy Institute)

“Energy flows at incredibly fast speeds, but energy is stored at much slower speeds,” said Schlenker. “Bridging this gap to understand storage in terms of flow is a central challenge of our research, and this instrument makes it possible. To study the excited state of some of these molecules, we operate the laser at intervals of around 50 femtoseconds. For comparison, to capture a bullet as it penetrates glass, a slow-motion camera must record at about 50,000 frames per second. Divide that one frame into 50,000 frames, and then again into 50,000 more frames, and that is roughly the timescales we are talking about — quadrillionths of a second.

“Thanks to successful partnerships within CEI and MAF, we can make this highly-specialized instrument broadly available to scientists on and off campus instead of housing it in a single isolated lab. This effort has been exceedingly successful, and my group has also benefitted from this community — all of the other users have different expertise and knowledge bases, which has led to a very inspiring cross-pollination of ideas.”


From right: Schlenker, postdoc Maraia Ener, and graduate students Tim Pollock and Dana Sulas setting up the ultrafast spectrometer in the UW Molecular Analysis Facility (Alex Morrison/Ultrafast Systems)

Educating the researchers of tomorrow

CAREER grants also include provisions for education and outreach activities, which are a core component of Schlenker’s philosophy as a professor.

“The educational outlay of the CAREER grant will provide further support for our outward-facing partnerships as well as my students’ own education,” said Schlenker. “We’ve already been working with CEI’s outreach efforts to incorporate research questions into science education materials, and we’re excited to officially launch a program called Research Integrated Science Education (RISE) to solidify our partnerships with groups like UW Math Science Upward Bound. Graduate students in my group will host summer workshops for Seattle-area high school students interested in pursuing STEM majors, which will help address pipeline challenges faced by under-represented groups.

“Undergraduate research opportunities in our lab will also be funded by this grant. We have a history of hosting students through the summer Research Experience for Undergraduates program, and there are two undergrads on one of our upcoming research proposals. I believe research experience is a critical aspect of undergraduate education, as it teaches students how to work in a lab, how to formulate a hypothesis, and how to decide what data they need to gather to test that hypothesis. Undergraduate mentorship is also beneficial for graduate students — if you can teach something, you have a thorough understanding of it.

“Finally, this funding will provide another layer of support to ensure my graduate students can invest their time in the educational opportunities provided by UW and CEI. They are already passionate about educating others and growing as scientists, and this funding will ensure they can keep doing both.”

Since 1995, the NSF CAREER program has provided over $1.5 billion in funding to over 3,600 junior faculty that exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through research, education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.

Former cleantech executive leads development of University of Washington energy research and technology center

Kevin Klustner, Executive Director of the Center for Advanced Materials and Clean Energy Technologies (CAMCET).

Kevin Klustner, Executive Director of the Center for Advanced Materials and Clean Energy Technologies (CAMCET). University of Washington

Kevin Klustner named Executive Director of Center for Advanced Materials and Clean Energy Technologies

May 9, 2019

The University of Washington and its Clean Energy Institute named Kevin Klustner executive director of the Center for Advanced Materials and Clean Energy Technologies, or CAMCET. When complete, CAMCET will be a 340,000-square-foot building that will bring together UW scientists and engineers with industry, civic and nonprofit partners to accelerate clean energy solutions for a healthy planet.

The building will house space for research, learning and cleantech prototyping, testing and validating. It will also offer space for organizations aligned with the UW’s clean energy innovation mission. CAMCET is the first building under consideration for a location in the UW West Campus — an area designated in the Campus Master Plan for 3 million square-feet of new development that will foster a thriving collaboration ecosystem for the UW and partners

A rendering of CAMCET’s exterior from the predesign report. CannonDesign

“UW and its Clean Energy Institute have helped establish Washington as a leader in clean energy innovation and the CAMCET building will catapult Washington to even greater heights,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. “With this center, our students will get the best education and prepare for jobs of the future, while our cleantech companies will grow and create good jobs for our economy.”

Map of University of Washington's West Campus in Seattle, WA

Map of University of Washington’s West Campus in Seattle, WA. Owen Freed/Clean Energy Institute

“UW is a powerhouse in advanced materials and clean energy research and development,” said Klustner. “CAMCET will connect these UW researchers with local and global industry and nonprofit partners to bring critical clean technologies to the world. CAMCET, and West Campus at large, represents a new model for buildings on campus that will greatly benefit our students, faculty, and region and I’m proud to help lead this effort.”

Klustner has held a variety of executive roles in technology and cleantech companies. Most recently, he was the CEO of Powerit Solutions, a cloud-based industrial energy efficiency platform, which was acquired by Customized Energy Solutions. Prior to Powerit, he was the CEO of Verdiem, a venture-backed software company in the energy efficiency space. Klustner was also the chief operating officer of WRQ, a privately held enterprise networking company. While there, he helped grow the company from $15 million to $200 million in revenues.

“Kevin brings a wealth of cleantech industry experience that will help ensure CAMCET builds on UW’s strengths to create a hub for clean energy research and technology in the Pacific Northwest,” said Daniel Schwartz, UW CEI Director and Boeing-Sutter Professor of Chemical Engineering. “External partners that join UW in CAMCET will have access to a fantastic talent pool and the instruments and technology testbeds needed to advance their ventures. With CAMCET, UW will chart an exciting course for how we educate future clean energy leaders and build a community dedicated to getting clean energy technologies to market faster to combat climate change.”

A rendering of CAMCET’s interior from the predesign report. CannonDesign

In January 2018, the Washington State Legislature allocated $20 million to the UW to establish CAMCET. The building will house:

  • Research
  • Industry/ Government/ NGOs
    • Washington Clean Energy Testbeds: The CEI’s open-access, fee-for-use facility for prototyping, testing, and validating clean technologies. The facility takes no intellectual property from external users. It also hosts Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Investor-in-Residence programs available to cleantech innovators across the region.
    • Startup lab modules and hot desks.
    • Market-rate leasable spaces.
  • Learning
    • Active learning spaces for students.
    • Seminar and meeting rooms.
    • Collaboration Spaces.
  • Public
    • Venues for events, conferences, and K-12 and public outreach.

UW’s West Campus is located just south of the forthcoming U District Link Light Rail Station and within short walking distance of greenspace and the Portage Bay waterfront.

Subject to UW Regents’ approval, UW will seek a developer for CAMCET in 2019, with construction currently slated to begin in fall 2020.


For more information, contact Suzanne Offen with the Clean Energy Institute at +1 206-685-6410 or soffen@uw.edu.

Lilo Pozzo recognized for outstanding leadership in clean energy education

Pozzo installing a solar panel on the roof of a house in Jayuya, Puerto Rico (Dennis Wise / University of Washington)

Clean Energy Education and Empowerment Initiative honored Pozzo for student mentorship and leadership of post-Hurricane Maria recovery initiative in Puerto Rico


April 3, 2019


Lilo Pozzo, Weyerhaeuser Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at UW

Lilo Pozzo, the Weyerhaeuser Endowed Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Washington (UW), was recognized by the Clean Energy Education and Empowerment Initiative (C3E) for outstanding leadership in education. Pozzo was one of eight honorees at C3E’s annual Women in Clean Energy Symposium.


“It was really outstanding to receive this award,” said Pozzo. “At the conference, it was wonderful to see and connect with so many incredibly successful women in energy, especially outside of my own ecosystem as an academic advanced materials researcher. From geothermal to wind, from promoting clean energy access in low-resource communities to high-level policy and utilities work, everyone supports one another in their careers.”


C3E was established in 2010 by the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM), a high-level forum comprised of 25 countries and the European Commission that aims to advance clean energy technology within the global economy. The United States’ C3E program is led by the U.S. Department of Energy in collaboration with the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), the Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy, and the Texas A&M Energy Institute. Out of recognition that the ideas and talents of all members of society are essential to meeting our future clean energy challenges, C3E aims to close the gender gap in STEM fields and increase women’s participation and leadership in the clean energy sector.


As part of the C3E award, Pozzo received $8,000 to advance women in clean energy, which she says she will use to support both graduate students from her research group and undergraduates involved in entrepreneurship.


“I’ll use the funds to support my students, whether that’s for a patent application to advance their technology or travel funds for an equity initiative,” says Pozzo. “In academia, I honestly feel that mentorship is our most important activity, whether that’s as a research advisor or discussing different paths through a career, I’m able to help plant the seeds of impactful work. My students will collectively achieve far more than I ever could alone.”


Pozzo investigates the relationship between a material’s nanoscale structures and its macroscale properties. She is an expert on the development of new polymeric, colloidal, and nanoscale materials for advanced energy applications — including solar photovoltaics, batteries, and fuel cells — and in 2013, she was recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy with the Early Career Award for standout researchers in the field.


AFM and sTEM images from Pozzo’s lab, depicting self-assembled nanoribbons of the conjugated polymer DPPDTT. Conjugated polymers are potentially useful in advanced devices like organic solar cells and flexible or biocompatible electronics. By creating and controlling nanostructures within the material, Pozzo and her research group are improving the electronic performance of conjugated polymer films in order to compete with conventional inorganic electronics. Read more >

“Along with her excellence in research, Lilo’s accomplishments as an educator are simply unparalleled,” said Dan Schwartz, director of the UW Clean Energy Institute (CEI) and Boeing-Sutter Professor of Chemical Engineering. “I’ve never witnessed someone so able to excite students by the entrepreneurial and humanistic contributions technology can make to society.”


In November 2017, just two months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Pozzo led a team of CEI and global health students to the rural mountain municipality of Jayuya to assess energy needs for the local clinic and residents that rely on electricity for healthcare. They also installed four solar PV-battery “nanogrids” to power devices like an inflatable orthopedic mattress and refrigerators for insulin storage. The initiative gained national recognition, including in a New York Times article on the aftermath of the hurricane. Pozzo went on to raise the funds needed to transform the initiative into a year-long project‐based learning course for clean energy students. Returning to the island in March 2018, her team installed 17 additional nanogrids while continuing their long-term field study on the impact of power loss on public health. In July, they collected data from PV-battery systems with integrated loggers and administered surveys to gauge satisfaction with solar energy as an emergency energy supply. The team recently published their findings in IEEE Power & Energy magazine. They found that over a 10 to 15-year lifetime, PV-battery systems are cheaper than diesel generators for locations likely to experience more than 66 total days of power outages, and are already an improvement for patients that require electricity for multiple sustained hours or overnight.


In the months following Hurricane Maria, Pozzo (third from right) led UW teams to Jayuya, Puerto Rico to install solar-battery nanogrid systems and assess energy needs for healthcare.


“Moving forward, I’m hoping to continue the project with high-level data analysis,” explained Pozzo. “I’m working with CEI professors Daniel Kirschen and Youngjun Choe on proposals to analyze vulnerable populations so we can recommend improvements in preparation, and I hope a project will take place in Puerto Rico this year so we can continue making a positive impact.


“I’m also proud to say that this initiative has inspired students to take the lead. In Guatemala and Ghana, CEI students are working on deploying clean energy to families with limited resources. I’m mentoring one group of undergraduate students that is developing a solar-powered medical oxygen concentrator for remote clinics, and another group is improving the design of solar-battery ‘nanogrids’ like the ones we deployed in Puerto Rico.”


As part of the ChemE Innovation Program, Pozzo has led three student teams to raise several million dollars in outside funding to launch startup companies after graduation. This year, she is mentoring three groups working on sustainability projects. Along with the aforementioned oxygen generators, her students are developing anti-malaria drugs specially formulated for children, and a device to break down pharmaceuticals in waste water.


“Lilo has an exceedingly rare commitment to mentorship,” said Greg Newbloom, who was a Ph.D. student and postdoc in Pozzo’s lab and is the founder and CTO of Membrion. Pozzo is a co-inventor of Membrion’s silica-based membranes used in energy storage and water purification. “Professors often take a heavy-handed approach to ensure ‘success’ in research or a startup, which can be to the detriment of the student’s learning. Lilo has guided and empowered me to carry out my own vision as both a researcher and entrepreneur. To this day, she is an amazing source of information and support.”

Pozzo (right) and electrical engineering Ph.D. student Mareldi Ahumada holding a battery

Pozzo (right) and electrical and computer engineering Ph.D. student Mareldi Ahumada with a portable battery for a solar-powered nanogrid in Puerto Rico. (Dennis Wise / University of Washington)

While her mentorship raises all students to new heights, Pozzo’s impact has been especially critical to the retention of Latina graduate students in engineering. She sees inclusion as the most significant barrier for women in clean energy.


“Inclusion is often a more severe problem than diversity,” said Pozzo. “While an institution can strive to establish a ‘pipeline’ of women to recruit and enroll, if opportunities aren’t equal within a program or there is an exclusionary, aggressive environment, those women may end up leaving their field. For allies, it starts with recognizing when inclusion is missing in opportunities like seminar invitations or the members of a research proposal.”


Jessica Soto-Rodríguez (Ph.D. ’18) recalled, “When I had doubts about my ability and drive as a researcher during my first couple of years, Lilo offered to take time out of her busy schedule to talk to me every week. She told me to see my research as an opportunity to do something about the problems in the world, and to use my creativity to provide the solutions.”


Membrion awarded Department of Energy Grant to develop ion-exchange membranes at Washington Clean Energy Testbeds

UW spinout will improve flow battery performance, cost under Small Business Innovation Research grant; Becomes third company to win federal funding for work at Testbeds


March 21, 2019


Dr. Greg Newbloom, founder and CTO of Membrion and UW chemical engineering Ph.D. and postdoc

Membrion, a molecular materials startup founded by University of Washington (UW) chemical engineering alumnus Greg Newbloom (Ph.D. ’14, postdoc ’15-‘18), won $150,000 in Department of Energy (DOE) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I funding to develop nanoporous ceramic membranes for non-aqueous redox flow batteries at the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds. The SBIR program allows small businesses to fulfill federal R&D needs, stimulating technological innovation, commercialization, competition, and economic growth. The UW Clean Energy Institute’s Washington Clean Energy Testbeds are an open-access facility for scaling next-generation clean energy technology. Testbeds users from industry and academia can fabricate prototypes, test devices and modules, and integrate systems at the facility.


“As a small startup, having access to the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds’ top-of-the-line instruments has allowed us to perform the cutting-edge science required to win major federal grants and compete with established companies,” said Newbloom, also the CTO of Membrion. “We’re utilizing the Testbeds’ advanced microscopes, spectroscopes and controlled environmental chambers for Phase I of this SBIR grant, and we’ll also take advantage of the Testbeds’ scale-up facility as we progress towards commercialization. The Testbeds continue to be a valuable contributor to Membrion’s ongoing success.”


Membrion membrane under microscope

Microscope image of Membrion’s silica-based membrane technology

Membrion’s technology is based on silica gel, the same material that is used in the preservative desiccants found in beef jerky packages. By coating a piece of fiberglass with the silica gel and curing it in acid, Membrion can create a ceramic membrane with controllable pore sizes. In flow batteries, membranes keep the positive and negative electrolytes separated while letting ions travel to complete the circuit. Membrion can also engineer smaller or larger pores to adapt the technology to filter drinking water or purify pharmaceutical molecules.


“Membranes are both a significant cost contributor and performance inhibitor for redox flow batteries,” said Newbloom. “When we first started out, everyone was trying to develop better plastic membranes using the same 50-year-old manufacturing process — we had to completely rethink the technology to create such a disruption.”


Greg Newbloom with Membrane

Dr. Greg Newbloom holding one of Membrion’s silica-based membranes


Newbloom founded Membrion in 2016 based on his postdoctoral research with UW chemical engineering professor Lilo Pozzo. Pozzo is a co-developer of the technology, and remains involved with the company as a scientific advisor.

John Plaza, CEO of Membrion and former Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds


John Plaza, a veteran cleantech innovator, met Newbloom at the Testbeds while serving as the facility’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence. The Testbeds’ Entrepreneur-in-Residence provides Testbeds users and the public with insights about the commercialization process, target markets, product development, and fundraising strategies. Plaza became president and CEO of Membrion in June 2017.


“Globally, the market for ion-exchange membranes exceeds $5 billion dollars,” said Plaza. “We are initially targeting energy storage markets including flow batteries, which are an environmentally-friendly option for energy storage. With our membrane’s decreased cost and increased performance, new energy storage solutions can become economically viable for grid-scale storage of renewables. When we bring our product to market later this year, we estimate that our membrane can significantly reduce the costs of these technologies and dramatically increase their market potential in the next few years.”


Membrion is the third company to win federal funding for work at the Testbeds. In 2018, MicroConnex was awarded $980,000 by the U.S. Department of Defense’s NextFlex program to develop flexible hybrid electronics, and Vesicus was awarded $225,000 in Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) funding to develop nanoporous thin films.


J. Devin Mackenzie

J. Devin MacKenzie, technical director of the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds

“At the Testbeds, we seek to lower the barriers to early-stage cleantech startup success by providing the ability to test, validate, and demonstrate new technologies,” said J. Devin MacKenzie, technical director of the Testbeds and UW professor of materials science & engineering and mechanical engineering. “We’re proud to support Membrion as they approach the scale-up phase.”


Membrion has received $2.23 million in seed funding from investors including Bellingham Angel Investors, E8 and the E8 Fund, Sand Hill Angels, Sierra Angels, the National Science Foundation, and several individuals. Membrion has also has been backed by Amazon’s Catalyst program, the Murdock Charitable Trust, and the CalTech Rocket Fund. Upon completion of Phase I SBIR research in 2020, the company will become eligible for Phase II funding up to $1 million. The company also plans to raise Series A funding in 2020.


About the Washington Clean Energy Testbeds
The University of Washington 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 system integration. This open-access facility in Seattle, founded on the principle that users retain all intellectual property, offers customized training and use of instruments for fabricating prototypes, testing devices and modules, and integrating systems. The facility also houses meeting and office space where users from academia and business work and collaborate. Through special events, Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Investor-in-Residence programs, and community-sponsored networking opportunities, the Testbeds are an active gathering space for cleantech innovators and investors. wcet.washington.edu


Clean Energy Institute Graduate Fellow begins Princeton University physics professorship

Dr. Sanfeng Wu (Ph.D. ’16) talks to CEI about his research in UW professor Xiaodong Xu’s lab, his recent postdoctoral fellowship at MIT, and the future of his work at Princeton


March 18, 2019

Princeton University physics professor and 2014 CEI Graduate Fellow Sanfeng Wu

Q: What was the focus of your Ph.D. in physics at UW?

A: I joined Professor Xiaodong Xu’s group in 2011. Over the course of my Ph.D., I studied several different aspects of two-dimensional (2D) materials, including novel structure synthesis, nano-optical devices, and clean energy devices. These materials are crystals that are one atomic layer thick, and they often exhibit unique properties. In particular, I worked with monolayer transition metal dichalcogenides, some of which are very interesting semiconductors.

Xiaodong created an excellent research environment in his lab. I was lucky to learn from him, work with him, and also develop a friendship with him.


How did CEI help to further your research and professional development?

In 2014, I was fortunate to be selected as a member of the first cohort of CEI Graduate Fellows to research optimization of 2D materials for light-harvesting devices. Through CEI, I also learned about the most recent developments in clean energy technologies. This was essential to the shaping of my understanding of the link between fundamental physics and realistic applications. As a physicist, I was trained in the fundamental aspects of natural phenomena, but I had little experience in making use of them for real-world challenges. My new lab will emphasize on both fundamental research and realistic device applications. Overall, my experience at CEI helped build my confidence in my ability to address real-world challenges in my research. It was a pleasure to become part of the CEI community.


As a CEI Graduate Fellow, Sanfeng Wu described exciting developments in 2D semiconductors at the 2014 Seattle Chamber of Commerce Regional Leadership Conference


You recently completed a postdoc as a Pappalardo Fellow at MIT. Describe the relationship between your Ph.D. at UW and your work at MIT — how did your research progress?

My experience at UW directly informed my research at MIT — both research groups are playing active roles in the exciting new field of 2D topological devices. At MIT, I also worked with monolayer transition metal dichalcogenides, this time to study quantum electronics. 2D topological devices are useful not only for optoelectronic devices, but may also be useful for researchers trying to create exotic new particles on a chip.


What will your primary research focus be at Princeton?

My group at Princeton will explore exotic quantum phenomena in 2D materials and seek quantum-based solutions for real world challenges. We are driven by a fundamental curiosity about quantum physics, which continues to produce surprises in the lab even after about a century of investigation. Quantum technology may hold the key to future devices that we use for computation, memory, and communication. It might also impact our clean energy solutions in an unprecedented way. However, quantum technology is still in its infancy — we need to explore new quantum materials, discover new quantum phenomena, and then create and optimize the devices. Looking ahead to the future, quantum physicists will need to take some “moonshots” to produce high rewards with the right breakthrough. I hope my lab can play an active role in such developments.


What advice would you give graduate students pursuing academic careers in the field of clean energy?

While I’m not seasoned as an advisor, I will share one feeling from my own experience — it is to follow your heart and always remember the big question that originally drove you to become a researcher. You might be developing skills in a seemingly different field, but if you always keep your goal in mind, you may one day find that you hold the key to something that nobody else has.


Related: CEI Graduate Fellow Earns MIT Pappalardo Fellowship in Physics