The Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced $21 million in funding for 31 research projects under EPSCoR.

Under the DOE program, university researchers from EPSCoR states partner with researchers at DOE National Laboratories on topics of common interest. Subjects include fundamental research in chemistry and materials science, advancing solar energy and battery technologies, studies in particle physics, and other areas.

“The projects announced today are collaborative DOE Lab-Academia efforts that will simultaneously advance science and technology, as well as strengthen America’s research infrastructure and capabilities,” said Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar. “Both EPSCoR states and the National Laboratories benefit strongly from these very productive, innovative research partnerships.”

In Kentucky, two researchers from KY NSF EPSCoR’s previous award, “Powering the Kentucky Bioeconomy for a Sustainable Future,” Prof. Anne-Frances Miller, University of Kentucky and Prof. Hui Wang, University of Louisville are pursuing newer research projects that are nonetheless highly complementary to the efforts of the NSF-EPSCoR program.

Dr. Miller, Professor of Chemistry and of Biochemistry, will use the DOE funds to seek ways to maximize efficiency and versatility of electron transferring devices by studying biochemical systems. These have the ability to control the energies of individual electrons, so lessons learned may give engineers the ability to use cheap abundant fuels to drive even our most demanding processes. This will improve the applicability of renewable energies like solar power.

This current research compliments the work done in the previous project, as Dr. Miller explains, “In the bioeconomy project my group was developing ways to use redox active enzymes on membranes to remediate water with self-generated power. In the newly funded project on bifurcating enzymes, we are learning the crucial principles that will enable more efficient and versatile use of solar energy. Society depends every day on water and energy—those are the problems my group is working on.”

 

Prof. Anne-Frances Miller, University of Kentucky

Dr. Wang, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, is also involved with electrical power, but in the form of energy storage. The DOE funding will support research on sodium (Na) superionic conductors for solid-state Na batteries, seeking to improve the cost, safety and performance. This is a new research project that is highly complementary with the previous NSF research, “The previous EPSCoR NSF fund has supported our research on Li-ion conductors for solid-state Li batteries,” Wang says. “To build more economic batteries, we start to study novel Na-ion conductors and explore the interfaces in solid-state Na batteries.”

Wang believes these batteries have a chance to make a real difference both economically and environmentally, “These batteries are necessitated for medium or large-scale energy storage systems such as utility grids or for electric transportation that have higher requirements on safety and economic price. In addition, the advances in energy storage systems are crucial for wider applications of renewable energy resources. It brings us closer to full independence from fossil fuels.”

 

Prof. Hui Wang, University of Louisville

 

While Dr. Miller and Dr. Wang are eager to start on their new research, they are grateful for NSF’s part in their careers and research findings, and for connecting them with other researchers across the state and nation.

“I am continuously humbled by the sincerity and commitment of the NSF to a better future for all Americans,” says Miller. “The NSF-EPSCoR program in Kentucky created a very dynamic team atmosphere that dispelled the all-too-common feeling that we are each struggling alone against our daunting smaller-state challenges.”

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