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GCEP grants $8.4m for green research


Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly reported that GCEP grants are only accessible to Stanford faculty. While this round of grants went entirely to Stanford faculty, the GCEP has previously supported research at other institutions. 


Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP) has awarded $8.4 million to seven Stanford research teams for developing high-efficiency energy technologies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


“These awards support fundamental research on a broad range of potentially game-changing energy technologies,” said GCEP director Sally Benson, according to the Stanford News Service.


The GCEP, an industry partnership supported by five firms — ExxonMobil, GE, Schlumberger, Toyota and DuPont — and based at Stanford, has in total supported 93 research programs with $113 million in grants since the project’s 2002 launch.


The GCEP portfolio includes research grants in fields ranging from photovoltaic energy to carbon capture.


The GCEP’s grants are well known in the scientific community and are explicitly targeted at funding research in its earliest stages, to counter the lack of resources that can often defeat the jump from theory to large-scale applications.


“GCEP has gained international recognition for supporting research in fundamental and applied research related to energy and the environment,” wrote Jennifer Dionne, professor of materials science and engineering and one of the grants’ lead investigators, in an email to The Daily.


Dionne’s team will investigate methods of making a new kind of electrode that converts photons from low-energy to high-energy states. Such advances would make photovoltaic cells more efficient and maximize the potential for harvesting solar energy.


“Our proposal is fundamental, in that we are exploring new ways of utilizing spectral regimes of the solar spectrum that are wasted with conventional photovoltaic and photo catalytic technologies,” Dionne wrote.


Another team of researchers will also work to develop new materials for energy conversion applications, in this case by attempting to identify new thermally and chemically stable nano-materials that efficiently convert heat into electricity. Such materials could be used to maximize energy efficiency in power plants.


“By doing that we think we can double the efficiency of solar thermal power plants, and reduce the cost of the electricity produced, because we believe that the additional energy converter we could put on top of the existing system would not be very expensive,” said Igor Bargatin, an engineering postdoctoral scholar.


While these research projects may be geared toward future industrial application, researchers emphasized that technologies developed may also find use in a residential context.


“We would like to have the ability to do this in the home at a smaller scale,” Bargatin said. “You can have a system that does not vibrate, does not produce noise, does not require maintenance — if we can fabricate it efficiently [for] cheap then it’s a cheap application.”


The research team is currently working on validating its theory, but plans on then modifying samples in order to begin gathering data for the project. Bargatin called three years a “reasonable timeframe” for developing useful applications from the current conceptual stage.


Richard Sassoon, GCEP’s managing director, emphasized the symbiotic nature of the current relationship with the project’s corporate sponsors.


“It’s a big, large corporation looking in the long-term; it does need to see what is coming in the pipeline, and what are the new trends that could be taking place,” Sassoon said, referring to ExxonMobil’s initial sponsorship and subsequent attempts to bring other firms to GCEP.


“GCEP provides a starting point for that type of research,” Sassoon added. “It’s an involved discussion on both sides. In the end, we’re happy that GCEP is around and doing the work that it’s doing.”

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