HomeGrantsIonE Discovery GrantInvesting in the future of energy

Investing in the future of energy

After an extensive internal and external review of multiple research proposals, the Institute on the Environment today announced the winner of a three-year, $750,000 grant in the area of sustainable energy.

Professors R. Lee Penn (Department of Chemistry) and Eray S. Aydil (Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science) in the College of Science and Engineering (CSE) are the lead investigators on the project titled “Materials for Renewable Energy and for Carbon Dioxide Emission Reduction.” The team includes 16 investigators from across departments within CSE, the Law School and the Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

The researchers will launch an expansive new energy program broadly focused on materials science and renewable energy. Specifically, they will work to improve solar photovoltaic cells, convert waste heat to electricity, use concentrated solar thermal to produce synthetic hydrocarbon fuels, accelerate green processing and advance thermal storage to build a more flexible electric grid.

The project will include research and educational opportunities for a cross-disciplinary group of graduate students and will build on previous success in securing U.S. patents, starting up new ventures and licensing technology to major corporations. The team’s ultimate goals are to develop new technologies that reduce carbon dioxide emissions and further a carbon-neutral economy.

“The Institute on the Environment is committed to supporting, promoting and celebrating research that positions the University as a national leader in building a sustainable future,” said Jessica Hellmann, IonE director. “This team of researchers will create a center of excellence that will help reduce the cost of renewable energy and see it deployed around the world.”

This funding comes from IonE’s Discovery Grant program. Seeding interdisciplinary research within the university — and in collaboration with external stakeholders — is a key function of IonE and has been part of its mission since its launch. The aim, through a pre- and full-proposal process, is to stimulate the creation of new research and education teams with potential for significant prominence and transformative impacts on the environment and sustainability.

“I’m thrilled that two of our leading faculty members — R. Lee Penn and Eray S. Aydil — have been awarded this multi-year grant,” said Samuel B. Mukasa, dean of the College of Science and Engineering. “This grant will further advance our position at the University of Minnesota as a leading center of excellence for research focused on tackling global grand challenges and developing the energy technologies of the future.”

IonE will be working closely with the research team over the coming years to ensure their work is connected to external stakeholders and potential funders. The Institute will also provide support for commercialization, publicity and more in collaboration with the College of Science and Engineering and others.

The IonE investment and the winning proposal also represent and champion the University of Minnesota’s commitment to solving global grand challenges.

“Advancing clean, renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions are two of the greatest challenges facing the world today,” said Raymond “Bud” Duvall, Special Assistant to the Provost for Grand Challenges Research. “I applaud the Institute on the Environment for supporting such a high-impact team of interdisciplinary faculty members and students committed to tackling this grand challenge.”

This grant is the first in a series of major new investments by the Institute on the Environment in strategic areas that have a large impact on sustainability and quality of life for people and our planet. The next strategic research focus will be on water sustainability for a growing population in Minnesota and around the world. An announcement of this new opportunity in partnership with the Grand Challenges Research Initiative was posted earlier this year and is available here.

Director of Communications & Ensia


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