Research Summary

The increasing consumption of petroleum deposits and the escalating air pollution problems caused by burning fossil fuels have driven the global research community to look for clean and renewable energy sources. Hydrogen, biofuel, and solar energy are among the most environmentally benign alternative energy sources. To build upon our strengths and to take the existing renewable energy programs on campus to the next level of international competitiveness, we propose the establishment of the Advanced Research Initiative for Substainable Energy (ARISE).

Merit and Impact

Global Merit and Impact

Two of the major challenges that the world faces today are finding new energy sources to sustain further economic growth and protecting the environment. The increasing consumption of petroleum deposits and the escalating air pollution problems caused by burning fossil fuels have driven the global research community to look for clean and renewable energy sources. The current worldwide economic downturn may have been caused by a number of factors but to get us back on track the opportunity may lie in “green jobs” as proposed by the nation’s President. The ever intense global competition for energy resources and the growing awareness of environmental issues imply that whichever country with an edge in addressing these two issues may ultimately lead the world in the next wave of revolution in technology. The United States is the world’s leading energy consumer by using 40% of all worldwide oil supplies and 25% of all coal and natural gas supplies but it only produces a very small portion of them. Renewable energy also plays a critical role for the nation to achieve energy-independence.

Hydrogen, biofuel, and solar energy are among the most environmentally benign alternative energy sources. For instance, when hydrogen is burned to release energy, the only product is clean water. They are also among the most promising and most heavily invested renewable energy sources. Texas is traditionally an energy state and Texas A&M University has been known as an energy institute as evidenced by our world class Petroleum Engineering and Nuclear Engineering programs. The energy emphasis is also reflected in the existing renewable energy programs in the University. To build upon our strengths and to take these existing renewable energy programs to the next level of international competitiveness, we propose the establishment of the Advanced Research Initiative for Substainable Energy (ARISE). The Initiative will connect the fields of technology development, academic research, commercialization, and the policy landscape in the renewable energy field. It will not only facilitate the collaboration among multidisciplinary researchers within the University, but will also help to attract funds from federal, state, and private funding agencies. The aim of the Initiative is to develop novel concepts and materials for hydrogen production and storage, electrodes and membranes of fuel cells, efficient conversion of biofuels, and economic production of solar energy. The mission of ARISE will include: (1) Serving as a focal point for research activities throughout the University in the renewable energy field. (2) Synergizing the efforts of multiple investigators and applying for major center grants from DOE, NSF, DOD, and other federal funding agencies. (3) Facilitating national and international collaborations among investigators in the development of new technology in the renewable energy field. (4) Promoting the use of renewable energy in the state and nation-wide. (5) Pioneering an integrated solar energy conversion, catalytic hydrogen production, and storage system for the complete conversion of solar energy to stored hydrogen on board a vehicle. (6) Developing new curricula in the renewable energy field and training the next generation of renewable energy researchers that will lead in the nations’ effort to achieve energy independence. The proposed research Initiative will ensure TAMU a leading role in this next wave of revolution in technology and will have a major impact on global environmental protection. The mission of ARISE is in line with Vision 2020 of the University and is consistent with the goals of all participating Colleges.

Building Intellectual Capacity at Texas A&M

The State of Texas is known as an energy state and Texas A&M has assumed a leading role in energy research in fossil fuels and nuclear energy as manifested by our world class Petroleum Engineering and Nuclear Engineering programs. The energy emphasis has also been reflected in our renewable energy research programs. The University currently has several nationally or internationally prominent individual research programs in the renewable energy field. The establishment of an initiative in renewable energy research will synergize the endeavor from individual researchers from ten colleges or institutes, eight research centers, and sixteen departments, will foster multidisciplinary collaborations among colleagues and will propel our research program to the next level of international competitiveness. Our reputation in energy research, our existing programs and infrastructures, and the continued commitment to energy research from the State and the University are the basis for us to attract nationally and internationally prominent faculty, mentors, and the next generation of scholars. The establishment of ARISE should help to attract and retain top talents by creating an Endowed Chair in renewable energy research, recruiting one young faculty member in biofuel, hydrogen, and solar energy research respectively, as well as providing a stimulating and well-organized scholastic environment. The proposed multidisciplinary curricula and the eminent scholars in ARISE will help to attract talented students from the state, the nation, and the world and will train them to be future leaders in the field of renewable energy. The trained students in renewable energy will be recruited by the very best universities, leading industrial corporations and major government organizations because our external research partners will come from these leading institutions. The State of California and the Peer Institutions mentioned for comparison in Vision 2020 such as UC Berkley, UCLA, and UC Davis have recently started similar initiatives in renewable energy research. It is imperative for our State and our University to act promptly.

Multidisciplinary Aspects and Organization

Multidisciplinary Aspects

The proposed renewable energy research theme encompasses three multidisciplinary subtopics: biofuel, hydrogen, and solar energy. Each subtopic requires the combination of efforts from biologists, chemists, engineers, physicists, and theoreticians. The proposed initiative participants are from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Engineering, the College of Geosciences, and the College of Sciences. It also includes researchers from interdisciplinary programs such as Genetics and Materials Science and Engineering. Research centers such as the Center for Catalysis, Center for Electrochemical Systems and Hydrogen Research, Center for Atmospheric Chemistry and Environment, the Institute for Scientific Computation and the Institute for Solid-state Electronics are the basis for the proposed ARISE. Our external partners are from national labs such as Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL), Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL), and Los Alamos National Lab (LANL), as well as industrial partners such as Air Products, Chevron, Dow Chemicals, Exxon Mobile, Shell and the nations’ major automakers. ARISE participants have already established collaborations in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America. The forty one submitters of this proposal include six Directors of research centers, two Distinguished Professors, six Endowed Chairs, eighteen Professors, two Associate Professors, and eight Assistant Professors. These participants hold current research grants of $26,791,283 and pending support of $36,109,069 from eighteen federal funding agencies. Some are participants of major multidisciplinary energy research centers such as the DOE Hydrogen Sorption Center of Excellence and the NSF-Sponsored Center on Solar Energy Conversion. Many of us have also participated in writing multiple DOE Energy Frontier Research Center proposals. The establishment of ARISE will undoubtedly further improve our chances of getting these major multidisciplinary grants.

Suggested Organization

To optimally support the research strategy of the Advanced Research Initiative for Sustainable Energy (ARISE), we will adopt a matrix structure in which we have three sections of three teams each, organized according to technical expertise, and three subgroups organized to increase cross-project interactions. Each team leader, which will come from Directors of existing research centers on campus, will have the primary responsibility of ensuring that their team has the required resources and expertise to achieve the Initiative’s goals. At the same time the subgroup leaders will be primarily responsible for ensuring that research at each stage advance according to the Initiative’s goals. The three synergy team leaders that will be in charge of characterization, integration, and computation, respectively, and will provide guidance and support to the common research needs of each project at each stage. The central management team of the Initiative will consist of the director of the Initiative together with one team leader each from each project, each subgroup, and each synergy team. The management of ARISE will be supported by an advisory board consisting of esteemed and accomplished members of the energy research community, and by an office that coordinates the communication and outreach activities of the center.

Synergies and Competitive Advantage

Synergies with University and College Plans

This white paper proposal is the result of a combination of white paper proposals from four different colleges and the mission of the Initiative is in line with the goals in college plans. To reach the goal of Vision 2020, we must surpass at least one of the top ten public universities in the nation. Many of the submitters of this proposal have participated in multidisciplinary energy research proposals organized mainly by our competitors because we do not have the infrastructure to facilitate such efforts. The establishment of ARISE will coordinate the research endeavor in renewable energy in the University and will strengthen our competitiveness in renewable energy research. This effort may even give us an edge as one of the leading institutions in such an important research discipline, which may become the key to the next wave of technology revolution. In addition to the research advantages that we gain from the proposed Initiative, the following educational aspects emphasized in Vision 2020 can also be addressed:

(1) Vision 2020 goal: Increase diversity and globalization, Imperative 6
The NSF-REU programs in participating departments have established a network for recruiting students from southwest Texas, including minority-serving institutions such as UT Pan American, TAMU-Kingsville, TAMU-Corpus Christi and Prairie View A&M. These activities help increase opportunities for students from underrepresented groups to participate in research programs in College Station. The NSF GK-12 programs in participating departments have also established excellent interactions with local schools in Bryan/College Station which provide outstanding outreach opportunities. Expanding on these programs, we will seek to disseminate the importance of developing new energy resources and the excitement of science and technology in this area to young aspiring students that potentially will major in mathematics, science, and engineering. The submitters of the proposal have already established collaborations with international partners worldwide. In the proposed Initiative, we will seek funds through the Outreach and Communication Committee of ARISE to establish student exchange programs with the world’s top energy research programs to enhance the international experience of our students in the renewable energy field.

(2) Vision 2020 goal: Improve undergraduate and graduate programs, imperatives 2 and 3
We will build on the proposed projects that will lead to not only scientific discovery and new technology but also pedagogical innovation for training of new interdisciplinary researchers in renewable energy. This will be accomplished through developments of new interdisciplinary curricula that not only train students broadly in the science and engineering required by interdisciplinary developments, but also teach them how these challenges will impact industry, global markets, and the ever developing energy needs of other countries.


Potential Texas A&M Competitive Advantage

Among the six best public universities defined in Vision 2020, the California schools (UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC San Diego) are leading the way in renewable energy research. For instance, UC Berkeley has established a Center for Energy and Environmental Innovation. Recently, UC Berkeley, in partnership with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois, won an international competition sponsored by the global energy firm BP to lead the Energy Biosciences Institute, an unprecedented $500 million research effort to develop new sources of energy and reduce the impact of energy consumption on the environment. Compared to Berkeley, we have the following potential advantages:
(1) The State of Texas is traditionally an energy state and is not near bankruptcy.
(2) Texas A&M is traditionally an energy institute epitomized by our world class Petroleum Engineering and Nuclear Engineering programs. Our individual renewable energy programs are very diversified and strong. In other words, in the energy field, we have the A&M brand.
(3) Our inorganic chemistry program, which is central to renewable energy research, is among the top five nationally. We have top agriculture and engineering programs that will play major roles in the renewable energy field. The agriculture program will be the leader in biofuel research and hydrogen production study. The engineering program will lead in technology development and commercialization.
(4) The University has extensive connections with major energy companies and automakers, who will be motivated in searching for new energy sources and developing technologies to use them.
(5) University leadership that is consistently striving for the best as evidenced by the university wide synergized endeavor toward the goals of Vision 2020.
(6) The renewable energy researchers on campus are diversified and have proven their competency by obtaining $26 million research funding and by reaching leading roles in their research disciplines nationally or internationally.


Critical Mass and Growth Needs and Potential

Existing Critical Mass

At present the 41 faculty participants of this Initiative proposal span ten colleges and intercollegiate programs, eight research centers, and sixteen departments. These include a Nobel Laureate, three Distinguished Professors, ten Endowed Chairs, fifteen Professors, four Associate Professors, and ten Assistant Professors. These participants hold current research grants totally ca. $40.0 million and with pending support of $46.4 million from eighteen federal funding agencies.. Some are participants of major multidisciplinary energy research centers such as the DOE Hydrogen Sorption Center of Excellence and the NSF-Sponsored Center on Solar Energy Conversion. Many of us have also participated in writing multiple DOE Energy Frontier Research Center proposals. The submitters have also obtained state of the art facilities for renewable energy through proposal writing (see Appendix E). Our external partners are from seven national labs such as ANL, NREL, LBNL, NIST, ORNL, LLNL, and LANL, as well as industrial partners such as Air Products, Chevron, Dow Chemicals, Exxon Mobile, Shell and the nations’ major automakers (see Appendix B). ARISE participants have already established collaborations in five continents. Many of the potential participants of the Initiative are working on the cutting edge of their disciplines. For example, our vehicular gas storage team currently holds the records for methane storage capacity and heat of hydrogen adsorption. Our biofuel research team is developing exciting new technology that is on pilot scale and moving toward commercialization. Our gas separation team has found a revolutionary mesh-adjustable molecular sieve and has been granted a patent. The development of this remarkable invention into commercially viable technology is currently underway based on collaborations among chemists and engineers. The Initiative participants also include an Associate Dean, a Department Head, six Center Directors, a PLU National President, a local Sigma Xi President, and a local Chair of the American Chemical Society. They will all serve in the management team. In addition, an Advisory Council consisting of esteemed and accomplished members of the energy research community will support the management of the Initiative. The leadership of the Initiative is extraordinarily strong.

Needs for and Availability of Candidates for Building Excellence

In addition to the current core of researchers on campus, additional hires are still needed to buttress the research force in the proposed Initiative. An Endowed Chair of Renewable Energy should be established to lure the world’s top researchers into our program. It is understandably difficult to attract someone from another university, but due to the economic situation, we might be able to hire someone from a national lab, industry, or abroad. Three junior hires at the assistant/associate level should be planned. We must target the brightest young talents in renewable energy research especially those who have shown promise as independent researchers in universities that are ranked lower than our university. A manager and an office assistant must be hired to assist the director in managing the Initiative.

Space and Infrastructure

Space needs for new hires must be considered by participating colleges and departments. Ultimately, a wing or a building for renewable energy research must be built. The three new hires in biofuel, solar, and hydrogen research may be housed in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Engineering, and the College of Science, respectively. They can be integrated into appropriate departmental hiring plans. The space for the Endowed Chair and the Initiative should be considered by the University to maximize the return on investment.

Justification for Investment of Resources

As the global research community pays more attention to renewable energy, the national and international resources that will be committed to this vital field will undoubtedly increase as manifested by the DOE’s solicitation for EFRCs (Energy Frontier Research Centers, about $25 million each) and NSF-Sponsored Center on Solar Energy Conversion. Private foundations will most likely shift their focus as the international research focal point shifts with the accelerated consumption of fossil fuels and intensified environmental concerns. Major oil companies and automakers will be motivated to invest more as exemplified by BP’s $500 million investment in UC Berkeley, LBNL, and UIUC. The inventions and technologies that will be developed will generate investment returns in the near future. The Initiative will become self-sustainable in about five years.