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Message from the Director

Greetings and welcome to the website of the International Institute on Carbon-Neutral Energy Research (I2CNER).

Professor Petros Sofronis, PhD Director International Institute for Carbon-Neutral Energy Research
Professor Petros Sofronis, PhD
International Institute for
Carbon-Neutral Energy Research

As I2CNER continues to mature in its second term, I find myself both pleased with our progress and excited about the new directions in which we are going. The Institute has changed significantly since we were first inaugurated as a World Premier International Research Center Initiative by the Ministry for Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology back in 2010, but I feel that each change we’ve made has only strengthened the Institute and optimized our use of resources. Some of the changes we are most excited about this year include our efforts to initiate projects on applied math for energy, specifically, the smart power grid; and the integration of more computational science throughout our existing research divisions, the idea being to capitalize on the potential synergism between computation and experiment to enable an accelerated approach to scientific discovery and enhanced performance.  We are also very excited about the possibility of expanding the scope of our Energy Analysis Division to include renewable energy system analyses to examine impacts upon the grid and studies of energy import pathways. However, no matter how many exciting new initiatives we have coming down the line, we still remain steadily focused on conducting the basic science research necessary to enable a carbon-neutral energy society.


Some of our most exciting, recent basic research highlights include:
Coupling chemical synthesis, atomic resolution microscopy, and first-principles modeling, Illinois Professor Ertekin and PI Ishihara demonstrated for the first time that isolated dopant atoms embedded into titania can function as co-catalysts for the photocatalytic production of hydrogen gas at rates that can be as much as ten times as large as undoped systems. To our knowledge, this is the first direct comparison of measured activity across a spectrum of dopant species to computational predictions. The “polymer-wrapped carbon” approach of PI Nakashima to covering the carbon catalyst support in polymer electrolyte fuel cells and Li-O2 batteries dramatically stabilizes and strengthens the function of the carbon surface. This discovery provides a radically new technique for the manufacturing of long lifetime electrodes with high performance. Using novel Raman spectroscopy methods, PI Zhang unlocked the fundamental physics governing charge and heat transport in suspended 2D nanomaterials. This increased fundamental understanding enables the easier integration of 2D materials in the semiconductor, electronics, battery energy, and composite materials industries. Continuing their work on biomimetic catalysis, the group of PI Ogo succeeded in developing a new synthetic [NiFe]-based catalyst for O2 reduction via an O2 adduct. This is the first example worldwide of a side-on iron (IV) peroxo complex of an O2-tolerant hydrogenase mimic. In an alternative collaborative approach, PI Yamauchi and Prof. Kenis utilized Cu catalysts with large surface roughness to achieve electroreduction of CO2 to ethylene and ethanol at current densities 10 times larger than the levels reported prior to their work and at an overpotential that is the smallest reported in the literature. Using innovative numerical and experimental methodologies, PI Tsuji and PI Christensen from Notre Dame demonstrated that inertial effects govern dynamic CO2 migration and that CO2 saturation is controlled by the flow capillary number and the viscosity ratio between CO2 and water. These discoveries are transforming how we ascertain effective and safe CO2 storage.  Using geographic information system analysis, Prof. Itaoka and WPI Visiting Professor K. Hirose (Toyota Motor Corporation) identified prospective areas for hydrogen station locations for fuel cell vehicles and pointed to metropolitan areas which are not covered by the existing/planned stations.


Given the typical timescales associated with well-to-wheel implementation of carbon-neutral energy technologies, here at I2CNER, we cannot help but talk about the future. We are always considering what’s next for the Institute and what is next for society as a whole. What’s more, we’re constantly looking for ways to improve upon what’s next by accelerating the transition to a carbon-neutral energy society using our basic energy research. In other words, we want to help ensure that this carbon-neutral future arrives as soon as possible. Here at I2CNER, our dream is for our young researchers to have the opportunity to contribute to and accelerate these developments through the targeted, strategic, and innovative basic research contributions that they are making to society.

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