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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 $200,000 for up to two years. 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 excel sheet

» See application for detailed proposal requirements.


The Collaborative Seed Grant proposal deadline has passed. If you feel you have a compelling post-deadline seed idea, please reach out to the 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 made on an ongoing basis. 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 heatwaves in the US have doubled in the last 50 years, with the summer of 2021 serving as a pertinent example for our region. The persistent rise in temperature in the Pacific Northwest has led to significant growth in residential air conditioning (AC) in a region with a history of mild summers and minimal need for personal cooling. Air conditioning systems are expected to contribute significantly to summer peak demand–both in the Pacific Northwest and other parts of the US–as cooling demand continues to rise. Because the adoption rate of air conditioning (over weeks and months) is much faster than the rate of grid infrastructure updates (over decades), the demand increases are more suitable to be managed through demand response (DR) programs, where operators try to shape customers’ consumption. using algorithmic and market mechanisms.

In this project, co-PIs June Lukuyu and Baosen Zhang (both UW Electrical & Computer Engineering) 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. Most existing figures on the increase in AC loads are anecdotal or based on limited survey information, making them of limited usefulness in policy and market decisions. The second question is balancing system-level objectives with equity and fairness concerns. Previous studies have pointed out the shortcomings of some standard DR practices, but do not offer principled ways for operators to trade off equity metrics with system-level performances.

Using detailed data from Clark PUD (public utility of Clark County, WA), the research team will conduct a study using real data to understand the prevalence and growth of AC loads. Notably, the data. covers the previous five years, allowing us to view the 2021 heat wave as a “natural experiment” and test how it has influenced the adoption of residential cooling technologies. The researchers will attempt to answer the following question: Given a trend of temperature changes, how would the load change in the coming years? Importantly, the team wants to understand the spatial and socioeconomic disparities in the load. For example, would urban and rural, low-income and high-income areas behave differently? Although simple, most utilities do not have the tools to answer it. Using real metered data from Clark PUD and longitudinal survey data from the American Housing Survey (AHS), this project will study how existing data and more advanced data analytic methods can be combined to provide answers.

This project will study how to robustly integrate community interests with predictive DR mechanism design and distributed system optimization to allocate controllable AC loads. More specifically, the team will study how to quantify metrics that account for the overlapping dimensions of inequity across space, time, income groups, race, and gender. The project aims to derive a mathematical formulation that allows utilities to optimize their DR designs. This type of formalism has been so far missing in the community and has hampered innovations in DR programs. Since optimizing every metric is impossible, DR designs have been evaluated in very ad hoc manners. We hope to provide a way to think about the Pareto optimal front of DR mechanisms, that is, designs that achieve the optimal tradeoff between different objectives. Hence informing responsive policy design that accelerates achieving equity and justice goals in a principled manner.

A federal grant program of particular interest is the NSF Smart and Connected Communities (S&CC) program (deadline April of each year). It specifically calls for research that spans technical (advanced data analytics and grid fundamentals) and social (multi-dimensional energy equity) dimensions. Projects in this program are typically funded at multi-million levels. The project work is also of interest to the CLIMA initiative within NSF ENG, and community power accelerator programs within DOE’s Office of Electricity. One of the PIs (B. Zhang) has received similar funding from CEI in the past, which led to funded projects from NSF and DARPA.

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

This project aims to catalyze collaborative research in a critical and underrepresented area for CEI. It focuses on the end-of-life processing and recycling of materials and components to mitigate environmental contamination and dependence on foreign sources of materials for our energy infrastructure. The project requires interdisciplinary collaboration in numerous areas, including materials analysis, transport phenomena, multiscale modeling of crystallization and growth, membrane development, and technologies for scaleup.

Professor Lilo D. Pozzo (UW-ChemE) is the UW Co-PI along with PNNL Co-PI Dr. Elias Nakouzi. The team includes Prof. Zachary Sherman (UW-ChemE), Prof. David Bergsman (UW-ChemE), Prof. Matt Golder (UW Chemistry), Dr. Chris Mundy (PNNL), Dr. Jaehun Chun (PNNL), Dr. Jim deYoreo (PNNL) and Dr. Chinmayee Subban (PNNL). Several team investigators have experience
in multi-PI funding programs (deYoreo, Pozzo, Mundy) including MRSECs and EFRCs, and several hold dual appointments between UW/PNNL (deYoreo, Mundy, Subban).

The budget will fund UW PhD students (4 total for a period of 12 months distributed over 2 years) that will be co-mentored by UW and PNNL researchers working together (e.g. Pozzo-Nakouzi-deYoreo, Sherman-Mundy-Chun, Bergsman-Subban, Golder-Nakouzi) to complement expertise, incentivize UW/PNNL collaborations and to maximize the educational value of the experience for the students. Moreover, the effort will be augmented with existing PNNL-specific funding (Nakouzi LDRD grant on autonomous experimentation for materials discovery) to leverage UW/CEI and PNNL funding to catalyze a larger sustainable effort. Although we focus on a specific area of reaction, diffusion, advection (RDA) separations for clean energy components, we seek to jumpstart a larger effort aimed at tackling the complex interplay of dynamic separation processes for broader sustainable recovery of critical materials.

We have identified avenues for continued funding of multi-PI efforts from DOE including: the FOA on mineral recovery from wastewater by the Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO), critical mineral extraction from produced waters funded by the office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM), lithium mining from geothermal brines funded by the Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO), and the Critical Materials Institute (CMI) Innovation Hub funded by AMO. However, we specifically aim to catalyze larger applications to DOE Energy Earthshot Research Centers (EERC) application, to be led by PNNL in Spring 2025, and by UW to the NSF Engineering Research Centers (ERC) focusing on AI/Robotics accelerated development of sustainable manufacturing practices.

Developing parafermion qubits for topological quantum computation

Quantum computation has the potential to play a key role in achieving a clean energy future. For example, quantum computers are expected to solve critical open problems in quantum chemistry that could enable the development of new materials and processes for ultra-efficient energy production and storage. However, building a useful quantum computer is extremely difficult. In response, the United States government has targeted quantum information science (QIS) as a field of high priority, creating the National Quantum Initiative in 2018 and investing billions of dollars in this field over the past few years (including several $100M DOE funded centers). These efforts have been further accelerated by the 2022 CHIPS and Science Act. However, achieving this goal  demands years of advances in fundamental science and engineering, as it is not even currently clear which platform is best for creating useful quantum computers.

To address this grand challenge, co-PIs Matthew Yankowitz (Physics & MSE), Xiaodong Xu (Physics & MSE), Di Xiao (MSE & Physics), and Ting Cao (MSE) propose to develop a transformative qubit with inherent fault tolerance arising from its topological nature. Decoherence of the quantum state of a qubit causes computation errors, which is the most fundamental challenge facing the realization of useful quantum computers. One compelling solution exploits the protective powers of topology, which can store information non-locally in a system and thereby prevent decoherence. The approach itself is not new; substantial academic research, and even industrial investment from companies like Microsoft, has focused on developing topological qubits in epitaxially-grown superconductor/semiconductor hybrid junctions. Although these efforts have yet to succeed, it appears that the primary challenge stems from inherent disorder in the chosen materials rather than from any truly fundamental roadblock.

The team is proposing an entirely new approach towards building topological qubits based upon atomically thin vdW materials. Xu’s group, in collaboration with Xiao and Cao, recently discovered fractional quantum anomalous Hall (FQAH) states in a twisted molybdenum ditelluride bilayer (tMoTe2). The FQAH states are topological states of matter with fractionalized charge excitations and quantum statistics. This discovery is a transformative advance in condensed matter physics for a variety of reasons, but most relevant here is that the FQAH states can act as a foundation for developing robust topological qubits. Their idea is to couple FQAH states to superconductivity simply by interfacing tMoTe2 with a vdW superconductor (e.g., NbSe2). The junction between a superconductor and a FQAH state creates an extremely exotic state of matter called a parafermion. The parafermion is a yet unstudied approach to developing fault-tolerant qubits, as it can support a more universal set of operations than previously studied Majorana fermions. The details are quite technical, but in short, our proposed platform is the first in which it is feasible to create robust parafermion states as a transformative approach for developing useful quantum computers.

PIs Yankowitz and Xu are both experts in the fabrication and characterization of vdW materials and devices. Their work will focus on creating novel superconductor/FQAH junctions and studying them with electrical transport and scanning tunneling microscopy. Key theoretical guidance for device design and interpretation of the measurements will be provided by the groups of Xiao and Cao, who were the first to accurately model the nature of the FQAH states. All four PIs have years of successful collaboration working in the field of moiré vdW materials; team members have published four papers on this topic in the past few months alone (three in Nature and one in Science).

In the one-year effort, a diverse interdisciplinary team of researchers (4 PIs and 4 graduate students) will assemble to target two immediate opportunities: one is a 2024 DOE EFRC proposal, the other is to join ORNL’s renewal effort of their >$100M Quantum Science Center funded by DOE with a focus on topological quantum materials. PIs have already started team preparation efforts for both opportunities. Given that the FQAH state was first discovered by Xu just a few months ago, it is critical for the team to quickly demonstrate the feasibility of interfacing with superconductivity in order to motivate the competitiveness of this system for topological qubit development. Support from CEI is essential for rapidly responding to these two upcoming exciting new opportunities.


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.