Strategic Energy Institute Announces Funding Awards

Through its annual seed funding for innovation in energy research, Tech's Strategic Energy Institute (SEI) has chosen four proposals in the Creating Energy Options (CEO) program. The Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Research and Innovation provides the funding.

Open only to Georgia Tech faculty and researchers, the program focuses on technologies and ideas with the potential to be commercialized or to streamline the processes involved in the implementation of energy options in the "near-term"-three to five years. Begun in 2005, the CEO program grants one year of research funding.

For 2009, researchers submitted 38 proposals, the highest number in the program's four years. Proposals were solicited from April 1 to May 1.

The four proposals chosen are as follows:

Strain-Relaxed Photovoltaics for High Efficiency Solar Energy Conversion, from Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Assistant Professor Michael A. Filler

Novel Oxide Photo-Electrolytic Hydrogen Generator, from School of Electrical and Computer Engineering Associate Professor Alan Doolittle

Creation and Implementation of a Web-based Biomass Resource Identification and Routing System (BRIARS), by Center for Geographic Information Systems Research Scientist Tony Giarrusso and School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Associate Professor Matthew J. Realff

Mixed Metal Oxide Nanoparticulate Catalysts for Hydrogen Production from Water, from School of Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor Z. John Zhang.

Submissions are required to be new or at least a new application to research already being investigated, according to Mary Hallisey Hunt, director of Special Projects for SEI. "We ask that proposals focus on new research or a new way to look at existing research," she said. Filler's submission, for example, is a different approach to photovoltaic research from what others are doing across the Institute.

"Mark Allen and the Office of the Provost are very committed to energy research," Hunt said. "It's great they want to have these funds available, and they encourage faculty of all disciplines to participate." The senior vice provost's office and SEI waive all overhead costs for evaluating the proposals and waive all tuition remission for proposals involving student research. "We encourage student participation, and in some cases, give greater weight to projects that have this featured."

This year, the review panel included researchers from the colleges of Engineering and Sciences, as well as institutional research centers not directly affiliated with an academic unit. The awards are open to anyone who is conducting sponsored research at Georgia Tech. A proposal review committee selects the final proposals for funding.

For those not selected, Hunt says committee members occasionally can direct researchers toward others in the Institute conducting similar research. "It's a good opportunity for networking with other energy researchers," she said.

For several researchers, this program can also lead to additional funding opportunities in the future. For example, Hunt talks about last year's proposal on tidal energy research by School of Civil and Environmental Engineering Associate Professor Herman Fritz and Assistant Professor Kevin Haas, with Georgia Tech—Savannah. "They leveraged their research with SEI to secure $500,000 in funding from the Department of Energy."

The Web-based BRIARS project, by Center for Geographic Information Systems Research Scientist Tony Giarrusso and School of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering Associate Professor Matthew Realff

The proposal extends from research Giarrusso and Realff are already conducting for Chevron. The BRIARS project seeks to take non-proprietary information from the Chevron model and create a Web-based tool for the location and transportation of biomass resources. This interactive resource will then be available for those in industry and academia.

"Essentially, we are trying to find optimal locations for new biomass processing plants based on resource availability and transport potential," said Giarusso, whose background is in biology, city planning and GIS.

"The project will utilize modified results from the Chevron project as inputs for a Web-based system that will allow users to click a point on a map to identify the amount of resources within a set distance of the point clicked. It will be a quick way for someone to evaluate an area for a potential biomass conversion plant or something of that nature."

Giarrusso says he brings the "GIS technical know-how to the project," while Realff brings his experience in energy and research, especially as it relates to biomass conversion.

Realff has successfully submitted one previous project under the SEI grant on biomass conversion to fuels. "I have been working with CGIS for a number of years on different projects, most notably on the use of GIS and other urban planning tools to look at recycling as an urban redevelopment strategy [with City and Regional Planning Professor] Nancey Green Leigh and [CGIS Director] Steven French."

"Our goal with the award is two-fold," Giarrusso said. "First, create an easy-to-use, GIS-based system that allows for effortless identification of biomass resources and optimal, multi-modal transportation routes across the region. Secondly, we hope to leverage this work into a larger project of similar nature, maybe for the entire country."

The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the world's premier research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities and the eighth best engineering and information technology university in the world by Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, Georgia Tech’s more than 20,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and minority engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.