Climate Game-Changers (They Hope) Get $8.4M

Making hydrogen from sugar, solar cells from carbon-based plants and a method for sootless diesel are just some of the innovative projects to benefit from $8.4 million in grants.

The award money comes from Stanford University’s Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP) and will be shared among seven Stanford research teams to develop new technologies that could make a “game changing” contribution to lowering greenhouse gas emissions.


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Zhenan Bao, associate professor of chemical engineering, is heading the research team planning to design and build photovoltaic cells out of carbon-based materials.

“Silicon has been the dominant material used in the solar cell industry for decades,” said Prof Bao, in a statement. “This award will allow us to begin developing new types of solar cells made primarily with carbon nanomaterials, which are extraordinary electron transporters and ideal for capturing the full solar spectrum—from visible light into the near infrared.”

If successful, the project would help make solar cells more environmentally friendly and cheaper to produce (since silicon is expense and difficult to extract).

The GCEP operates 75 full-term research programs in institutions all over the world. Since its inception it has led to 32 patent applications, of which three have been issued.

The GCEP is sponsored by five major companies. Since 2002 four of the sponsors—ExxonMobil, GE, Schlumberger, and Toyota—have collectively committed over $150 million towards the award scheme. In September last year, DuPont became the project’s newest corporate sponsor.

“We are very pleased to announce the latest round of awards to leading members of the Stanford faculty,” Schlumberger Vice President Rod Nelson, the chair of the GCEP management committee , said in a statement. “These seven programs exemplify the kind of high-risk, high-reward energy research that has become the hallmark of the GCEP partnership.”

The seven projects that will be the recipients of the awards are:

  • Better solar energy conversionTo make photovoltaic cells more efficient, the researchers are seeking to make a new kind of electrode that converts photons from low-energy to high-energy states.
  • Sootless diesel: With this novel technology researchers will attempt to transform diesel combustion into a clean, highly efficient process that emits no soot.
  • Hydrogen from sugarThe aim is to develop a new chemical process to convert sugars derived from plants into hydrogen, for use as a clean-burning fuel.
  • New generation of high-power batteries: Researchers want to create inexpensive, long-life, high-power batteries to offset the problem of intermittent renewable energy on the  power grid.
  • Methane from microbes: The research team is designing a “living” fuel cell that converts electricity and carbon dioxide into methane gas using bacteria.
  • New materials for energy conversion: The team want to identify new thermally and chemically stable nanomaterials that can be used to efficiently convert heat into electricity. 
  • Carbon solar cells: The proposal of Prof Bao’s team is to design and build solar cells made from carbon-based plants.

Paul Willis has been journalist for a decade. Starting out in Northern England, from where he hails, he worked as a reporter on regional papers before graduating to the cut-throat world of London print media. On the way he spent a year as a correspondent in East Africa, writing about election fraud, drought and an Ethiopian version of American Idol. Since moving to America three years ago he has worked as a freelancer, working for and major newspapers in Britain, Australia and North America. He writes on subjects as diverse as travel, media ethics and human evolution. He lives in New York where, in spite of the car fumes and the sometimes eccentric driving habits of the yellow cabs, he rides his bike everywhere.

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