President Barack Obama’s plan to expand energy research across the nation has found its way to Santa Barbara, following an announcement last Monday that UCSB’s Institute for Energy Efficiency will be home to one of 46 new multimillion-dollar Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs).
The university will receive a $19 million grant over an initial five-year award period. As one of only 16 EFRCs to be guaranteed a five-year commitment by the president’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the agreement will enable the employment of postdoctoral associates, graduate students, undergraduates, and technical staff in energy research jobs. In total, the White House will invest $777 million in EFRCs over the next five years.
According to Dan Colbert, executive director of the UCSB College of Engineering, the UCSB EFRC plans to allocate the grant money toward improved efficiencies in three major research topics: thermoelectrics, a technology that converts heat into electricity; solar energy conversion; and solid-state lighting or LED. Colbert said the $19 million grant is clear recognition of UCSB’s contribution to energy research by the nation’s scientific leaders. “The reviewers recognized that we do world-class quality research here,” Colbert said. “Our proposal is credible : We propose work that will make a real difference.”
In terms of solar energy conversion, the center will explore new classes and types of materials aimed to increase solar panel efficiency, as well as reinvest in the work of UCSB physics professor Alan Heeger, who developed solar panels made of plastics at a projected five times less than the cost of current silicon solar cells. The proposed boost to LED lighting research will build on the work of the world-renowned Solid State Lighting and Display Center.
Engaged in advanced scientific research on the nation’s energy capabilities, the various EFRCs are being established under the guidance of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science at national laboratories, nonprofit organizations, private firms, as well as universities across the nation. UCSB’s EFRC – dubbed the Center on Materials for Energy Efficiency Applications – will be created under the guidance of the Institute of Energy Efficiency.
Selected from an applicant pool of 260, the 46 EFRCs will each be funded in the range of $2 million-$5 million per year for the initial five-year period. Responding to solicitation from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science in 2008, institutions were chosen based on reviews conducted by scientific experts from outside the Department of Energy. UCSB is one of 31 universities selected by the White House – 12 Department of Energy National Laboratories, two nonprofit organizations, and one corporate research laboratory were also chosen.
Of UCSB’s selection, Tony Rairden, integrated marketing communications manager at the College of Engineering, said, “Our strengths as a campus in energy efficiency are extremely high. … When it comes to solid state lighting (LED), we’ve got the world’s leader here and the fourth-ranked materials graduate program in the country. The emphasis of the grant was materials to create greater efficiencies in these areas.” The UCSB EFRC plans to employ 24 graduate student researchers, 14 undergraduate researchers, an average of two postdoctoral researchers, an administrative assistant, and an associate director.
The center’s research plans include collaboration with scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, UC Santa Cruz, and the University of Michigan.