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Exploratory Efforts printer friendly format

With ideas that are so new, fundamental discovery is often the first step needed in research. As part of its strategy to build a diverse portfolio of innovative technologies, GCEP provides up to $100,000 in funding for research activities of an exploratory nature that test the feasibility and application of potential step-out ideas. During a one-year performance period, these activities focus on novel approaches and innovative concepts associated with technologies that lead to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale. To date, GCEP has funded 35 exploratory efforts. Based on initial results, close to a third of these have successfully gone on to be funded as three-year GCEP research programs, including some that set out to develop new transparent electrodes for photovoltaics, produce hydrogen from glucose in a cell-free manner and integrate coal energy conversion with aquifer-based carbon sequestration.

This year, GCEP awarded four exploratory research grants to Stanford faculty for promising proposals in the areas of transportation, energy storage, artificial photosynthesis and advanced combustion.


Shanhui Fang Photo
TRANSPORTATION: Safe Wireless Power Transfer to Moving Vehicles

Investigator: Shanhui Fan, Electrical Engineering, Stanford University

Electric vehicles (EVs) offer superior energy efficiency while offering an enormous potential for reducing CO2 emissions, if the electricity is supplied from a renewable or nuclear source. However, EVs are neither range- nor cost-competitive compared to conventional vehicles, due to limited options for recharging and the high cost of batteries.

To overcome these challenges, the research team will design a radiationless electromagnetic antenna - a novel technology that, if successful, will demonstrate the feasibility of wireless power transfer to vehicles cruising at highway speed via magnetically coupled resonating coils in the roadbed and in the vehicles.

The ability of electric vehicles to receive power from the roadway could have a huge impact on electric vehicle transportation, dramatically reducing petroleum use, carbon emissions, traffic congestion and highway accidents.

Hongjie Dai Photo

ENERGY STORAGE: Ultra-Fast Rechargeable Nickel/Zinc Batteries

Investigator: Hongjie Dai, Chemistry, Stanford University

The demand for batteries is rapidly increasing as more mobile electronic devices, ranging from cell phones to EVs, enter daily use. By 2016, the battery market is expected to reach about $86 billion. Lithium-ion batteries have taken a leading role, although they are ultimately limited by the comparatively low abundance of lithium, which contributes to the relatively high cost of Li-ion technology. Also, the charge and discharge rates of Li-ion batteries are limited by the insufficient conductivity of the available electrolytes.

Nickel/zinc (Ni/Zn) batteries are a type of alkaline rechargeable battery first proposed in 1901. However, the development of rechargeable Ni/Zn batteries has been slowed by the limited cycle life associated with the dissolution of the zinc electrode into solution during discharge, as well as the lower-than-theoretical capacity of the nickel electrode. Developing electrode materials with high specific capacity (i.e., Watt-hours/kilogram) remains a challenge.

The researcher team will synthesize hybrid materials by creating novel electrodes of nickel hydroxide and zinc oxide grown on graphene nanosheets and carbon nanotubes. The goal is to develop a highly reversible Ni/Zn battery with unprecedented electrochemical performance, including close-to-theoretical energy density, high power density and long cycle life at reasonable cost.

Harold Hwang Photo
ARTIFICIAL PHOTOSYNTHESIS: Solar Water-Splitting Catalysis

Investigator: Harold Hwang, Applied Physics - Stanford University, Photon Science - SLAC

Using the sun to split water into hydrogen and oxygen has the potential to greatly reduce the production of greenhouse gases. The generated hydrogen can be used in fuel cells or as feedstock for ammonia and industrial chemical synthesis.

Three principal factors limit the practical implementation of solar water splitting: inefficient charge separation, slow chemical reaction rate at the catalyst surface and ineffective use of the solar spectrum in the visible range. Although there are many efforts to address these challenges, the vast majority of experimental activities rely on polycrystalline materials. The researchers will explore the use of single crystalline oxide materials, grown with atomic precision, to enhance conversion efficiency.

Chris Edwards Photo
ADVANCED COMBUSTION: High-Efficiency Engines

Investigator: Chris Edwards, Mechanical Engineering

Achieving efficient engine operation is one of the clearest, most-economical paths to mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. Consumption of significantly less fuel per unit of work provides a method of greenhouse gas mitigation that is immediately attractive to consumers, and therefore requires no incentives other than individuals or organizations acting in self-interest.

Today, piston engines with less than 500 kW output dominate transportation and distributed energy generation, since gas turbines of such a small size are significantly less efficient than their larger counterparts. Fuel cells have also been investigated for this size range, but cost has been a challenge given current levels of efficiency. The research team will explore the best ways to combine piston-cylinder, internal-combustion-based reaction with electrochemical reaction to achieve efficiencies above 70 percent for transportation and distributed generation engines.

For more information see: GCEP Exploratory Efforts

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