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Collaborative Seed Grants


The goal of this program is to support teams of PIs at the University of Washington to go after larger, team-based proposals to transform clean energy science, technology, and community impact. Collaborative Seed Grants provide scholars the freedom to explore novel, high-risk/high-reward research topics while seeding new collaborations in research, education, and community engagement that raise the profile of the Clean Energy Institute (CEI) and our partners in ways that significantly increase the prospects for future extramural support.

Scope & Eligibility

Proposals are invited from teams of PIs to support ambitious, forward-looking research and educational plans with the goal of seeding a specific future collaborative and center-scale extramural grant application (please cite the specific program you intend to submit to) that has a strong component in the core CEI research areas of solar energy, energy storage, energy systems integration, advanced energy materials, including the burdens of traditional energy and potential benefits of clean energy on communities. Single PI grants will not be considered. Proposal teams can include partners outside UW, but the seed grant will only fund work through UW budgets due to administrative requirements (we will not issue subawards to outside organizations).

Financial Support

Budgets should be appropriate to the scope of the project. The maximum funding amount is $100,000 over one year. Proposals requesting maximum funding should be sure to demonstrate the need for maximum funding or will be less likely to succeed. Please note, graduate student funding comes with state tuition waivers included and is thus encouraged as the most cost-effective way to utilize this support. However, well justified requests for postdoctoral or staff funding will be considered. Funding of faculty effort during the academic or summer months will require strong justification, and concurrence by department or college administrators.  Strong justification for faculty effort may include (but is not limited to) teams that have advanced to the full proposal or site visit stage of a highly-competitive, complex, multi-year center-scale effort (e.g. EFRC, UIFL, ERC, STC, MRSEC or similar) and are working on very compressed time-lines; cases like this may also justify other extraordinary support resources such as visualization and/or illustration services, red team review services, etc., to enhance the competitiveness of submissions.

Proposal Submission

PIs should complete the online application and upload a single PDF proposal that includes the following:

(i) cover page

(ii) project description (max one page)

(iii) budget justification

(iv) current and pending support for the PIs

(v) CVs of the PIs

(vi) Budget spreadsheet

» See application for detailed proposal requirements.


Applications for the 2024-25 period are open from March 1 – May 1, 2024. If you feel you have a compelling post-deadline seed idea, please reach out to CEI Chief Scientist David Ginger to inquire about the possibility of off-cycle funding prior to preparing an application. New application cycles typically run in the spring of each year.

Evaluation & Decision

Decisions will be announced by June 1, 2024. Evaluation criteria will emphasize: (i) likelihood the results will lead to new extramural funding at UW, (ii) relevance to the CEI mission areas. (iii) (if applicable) past follow through of PIs on submitting multi-PI awards based on CEI funding.

Review Criteria – CEI Collaborative Seed Grants

Selected Projects


Climate and Equity Considerations for Community-Based Demand Response Strategies in the Pacific Northwest

The frequency, severity, and duration of extreme heat waves in the US have doubled in the last 50 years, with the summer of 2021 serving as a pertinent example for the Pacific Northwest. Demand for air conditioning rises much faster than power grid infrastructure can be updated, so grid operators try to shape customers’ consumption using algorithmic and market mechanisms that together are known as demand response (DR) programs. Co-PIs June Lukuyu and Baosen Zhang will study two important questions in designing DR programs to manage AC loads: the first is quantifying the amount of air conditioners that are actually available to control; and the second is balancing system-level objectives with equity and fairness concerns. They will conduct a study using five years of authentic data from Clark County Power & Utility District and longitudinal survey data from the American Housing Survey, using the 2021 heat wave as a “natural experiment” in climate-impacted demand for air conditioning.

Optimization of RDA dynamic separations for recycling of critical clean energy materials

End-of-life processing and recycling of materials and components is critical to mitigating environmental contamination as well as U.S. dependence on foreign sources of materials for energy infrastructure. This joint UW-PNNL project, led by Professor Lilo D. Pozzo and Dr. Elias Nakouzi, will focus on developing a particular separation process for clean energy components: reaction-diffusion-advection (RDA). The team will collaborate across disciplines in analyzing materials and transport phenomena, modeling crystallization and growth at multiple scales, developing membranes, and scaling up technologies. The effort will be augmented with existing PNNL funding on autonomous experimentation for materials discovery. The long-term goal is to integrate more dynamic separation processes to broaden the sustainable recovery of critical materials. Focus areas include mineral recovery from wastewater, mineral extraction from water byproducts of fossil fuel extraction, lithium mining from geothermal brines, and AI/Robotics-accelerated development of sustainable manufacturing practices.

Developing parafermion qubits for topological quantum computation

Quantum computers have the potential to play a key role in achieving a clean energy future. For example, quantum computing could fast-track the development of new materials and processes for ultra-efficient energy production and storage. However, building a useful quantum computer is extremely difficult — it is not even currently clear which materials are best for creating quantum bits (qubits). To address this grand challenge, project co-PIs Matthew Yankowitz, Xiaodong Xu, Di Xiao, and Ting Cao propose an entirely new approach towards building topological qubits based upon atomically-thin “van der Waals” materials. Xu, Xiao, and Cao recently discovered rare quantum properties in stacked, slightly misaligned two-dimensional sheets of the semiconductor molybdenum ditelluride. These materials can be coupled with vdW superconductors to create unique particles with fractional electronic charges, known as parafermions, which if harnessed could be the backbone of a device for storing and processing quantum information.


Integrated Design, Evaluation, & Automation of Materials for Advanced Photonics (IDEA-MAP)

PI Cody Schlenker (chemistry) and co-PIs Lilo Pozzo (chemical engineering, MSE), Matthew Golder (chemistry), Munira Khalil (chemistry), Sotiris Xantheas (chemistry via PNNL), and Xiaosong Li (chemistry) will integrate computational chemistry, machine learning, spectroscopy, automated chemical synthesis, and high-throughput screening to develop new molecules for near-infrared (NIR) photon upconversion in next-generation solar photovoltaics. This “fusing” of solar NIR light into visible light that can be harvested by today’s PV modules could boost power conversion efficiencies by more than 10%; analysts suggest that if upconversion can be achieved at 1% of PV module cost, it could revolutionize the $100 billion global solar market.

The team will use initial results to apply for NSF Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future(DMREF) funding in 2023, with a longer-term goal of securing broader MURI and center-level funding for Integrated Design, Evaluation, & Automation of Materials for Advanced Photonics (IDEA-MAP) and other clean energy technology initiatives, e.g., in batteries. The team also plans to interface with community and tribal colleges, developing Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) in Chemistry, Engineering, and Robotics.

Inverted Aqueous Zinc-Ion Batteries

While lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) are ubiquitous in modern consumer electronics and electric vehicles thanks to their high energy density and well-understood chemistry, their reliance on scarce lithium metal and flammable organic electrolytes means that alternative designs may find a foothold in applications like long-term, grid-scale storage or wearable electronics. Aqueous zinc-ion batteries (ZIBs) are a particularly attractive alternative thanks to low-cost, non‐toxic, simple, and mature processing, but their development has been limited by the lack of high-performance cathodes and fundamental understanding of the more complex ion-storage chemistry.

Samson A. Jenekhe (chemical engineering, chemistry) and Guozhong Cao (MSE) aim to demonstrate an “inverted” ZIB that uses zinc metal as the cathode instead of the anode, which they believe may minimize or eliminate operational deficiencies related to conventional ZIB electrochemistry. The PIs will explore various novel materials as possible anodes, including a semiconducting organic polymer, a layered vanadium oxide, and complex oxides that contain at least five different transition metals. The data generated under the seed grant will enable the formulation of major hypotheses to drive external grant proposals. In the long run, the team aims to add 2-3 PIs and compete for external funding from programs such as NSF’s MRG and ERC, ARPA-E, industry consortiums, and MURI.

Moiré superlattices boosted hydrogen evolution reaction

The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced billions of dollars in funding for Hydrogen Hubs via the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which emphasized hydrogen as a critical part in the comprehensive energy portfolio of the United States.

Xiaodong Xu (physics) and Jihui Yang (MSE) will study the possible use of two-dimensional semiconductors as an efficient alternative to precious metals in electrocatalysts for hydrogen fuel cells. The PIs have previously demonstrated the ability to layer these atomically-thin materials with a relative twist, resulting in the formation of a “Moiré superlattice” across the layers with highly tunable electronic properties. The PIs have also developed spectroscopic techniques to analyze the performance of the Moiré superlattice materials in the hydrogen evolution reaction. The team aims to apply for a DOE EFRC award in 2024.