News Story

July 2, 2014
Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology

DOE Awards Energy Frontier Research Center to CCB and SEAS

On June 18th, the Department of Energy announced the award of approximately $12 million to establish an Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) at CCB and the School for Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), directed by Professor Cynthia Friend. This Harvard-based Center, Integrated Materials for Sustainable Catalysis (IMASC), is aimed at "understanding chemical reactivity of complex structures to enable the design of highly selective catalysts for some of the most energy-consuming industrial chemical processes," according to Professor Friend. It is the first EFRC at Harvard. 

The mission of Harvard’s EFRC is to improve the efficiency of chemical production by the introduction of new, innovative, sustainable catalytic conversion processes to offset rapidly increasing global consumption of energy. Given that the industrial sector, including the manufacturing of bulk chemicals, uses more delivered energy than any other end-use sector, the need for new and sustainable catalytic processes is all the more urgent. The purpose of IMASC is to develop new catalysts—materials that speed up specific chemical processes—that are widely used to produce chemicals for a vast array of applications, including production of fuels, plastics, food additives, fragrances, among others. The focus of research conducted by IMASC will be on sustainable catalytic processes, i.e. those that use less energy, have a smaller percentage of waste products, use less water, and also potentially use renewable starting materials, such as chemicals derived from biomass.

According to the United States Department of Energy, "transforming the way we generate, supply, transmit, store, and use energy will be one of the defining challenges for America and the globe in the 21st century. At its heart, the challenge is a scientific one. Important as they are, incremental advances in current energy technologies will not be sufficient. History has demonstrated that radically new technologies arise from disruptive advances at the science frontiers. The Energy Frontier Research Centers program aims to accelerate such transformative discovery."  

With CCB associate faculty member Tim Kaxiras (SEAS) as Deputy Director, Harvard’s new center will integrate collaborative work from CCB and SEAS with Lawrence Livermore National Lab, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Lab, University of Notre Dame, Tufts University, the Fritz Haber Institute in Berlin and the National Research Council of Italy. The range of experience of these researchers includes chemistry, physics, chemical engineering, advanced microscopy, X-ray spectroscopy and materials synthesis. Student and postdoctoral scientists working at IMASC will tackle some of the most important energy challenges for the nation, with exposure to cutting edge experimental and computational tools and in an environment for research that cuts across traditional disciplines.

IMASC is one of 32 Energy Frontier Research Centers nationwide to receive a combined $100 million over the next four years to conduct research into the transformative energy technologies of the future. The DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences first established EFRCs in 2009 to “harness the most basic and advanced discovery research in a concerted effort to establish the scientific foundation for a fundamentally new U.S. energy economy.” At present there are 46 EFRCs across the country involving over 2800 senior investigators, students, postdocs and technical staff at universities, national labs, industry, and non-profit institutions. The DOE received more than 200 proposals for EFRCs. 

Professor Friend writes about the award, “This is an exciting development that will highlight the strength of the energy science research at Harvard as well as our connections to a network of efforts at national labs and international groups. I hope we can build on the Center to further strengthen the energy science effort at Harvard.”

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