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Stanford's Precourt Institute for Energy (PIE) has granted $1.8 million to six research projects proposed by faculty and students-a first for the 16-month-old institute.
By Erin Inman
The Precourt Institute promotes interdisciplinary energy research and education, with the aim of providing people with "ideas that can transform the energy landscape for the future," wrote Franklin Orr ‘69, the institute's director and a petroleum engineering professor, in an e-mail to The Daily.
Future energy challenges will likely involve resources, conversion, efficiency, markets and regulatory structures, Orr said.
From a pool of 20 proposals, a committee of energy faculty members chose six projects that span the field of alternative energy, from turning paper into supercapacitors for grid-scale energy storage to stimulation prediction models in enhanced geothermal systems and development of a new high-temperature proton exchange membrane for fuel cells.
The grant for geothermal system models supports the institute's interdisciplinary approach by bringing together the Stanford Geothermal Program, led by earth sciences Prof. Roland Horne, and the Structural Geology and Geomechanics research group, led by earth sciences Prof. David Pollard Ph.D. ‘69.
Together, the groups will create a new fracture, stress and flow modeling approach that they hope "will provide insight into the phenomenon of induced seismicity," as stated in their grant proposal.
"Geothermal energy does have a promising future, if it is not derailed by the induced seismicity issue," Horne wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. "Geothermal (energy) is baseload, meaning that it can run all the time and is not subject to intermittency when the sun doesn't shine or the wind doesn't blow."
A second interdisciplinary grant was awarded to Yi Cui, professor of material sciences and engineering, and Zhenan Bao, professor of chemical engineering, who are trying to create supercapacitor devices that store energy by embedding nanostructure material in paper.
"Paper is porous; it has lots of empty space," Cui said. "Paper sucks up ink from pens. We're trying to do the same with nanotechnology."
Thus far, the group has developed a simple paper capacitor that powers light bulbs and LEDs.
The long term goal is "to stack paper together like a book to connect to an electric grid like a battery that can store the grid's fluctuating energy," Cui said.
If the grid storage is successful, Cui is hopeful that paper capacitors could even be used in portable electronics.
Orr called the funding for projects like Cui's and Bao's "seed funding."
"They allow our creative faculty and students to work on ideas that might be too risky for conventional funding sources, but have the potential to have a significant impact on future energy applications," he said.
Successful projects funded by PIE could compete for grants from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and other sources, according to Orr.
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