January 2012

Energy Frontier Research Centers cover innovation spectrum

Carbon capture and sequestration is just one focus of the dozens of collaborative teams with five-year multimillion dollar grants to study basic science questions relevant to new energy technologies.

These teams, known as Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs), allow scientists to collaborate across disciplines and beyond the confines of their institutions. The 46 centers include researchers from universities, national laboratories, non-profit organizations, and industry across 35 states and the District of Columbia.

The effort started with a series of Department of Energy workshops in 2002, says Harriet Kung, the DOE’s associate director of science for Basic Energy Sciences. “We proposed to form a number of Energy Frontier Research Centers as a concerted effort to really target best and brightest talents of this country to solve some of the most difficult questions in energy research.”

Centers are examining topics such as the design of new materials for capturing solar energy, superconductors that do not lose energy as they transmit electricity and materials for lining nuclear reactors that resist damage or self-heal in response to fission reactions.

“We are poised at a point where we can control matter and energy, almost at the atomic, electronic and molecular scales,” Kung says. The next steps will require answering a fundamental question Kung poses: “How do we harvest these advances by controlling matter and energy at that scale?”