Columbia Engineering Launches New Center for Research into Renewable Energy and Energy Storage

Editor's note:

Multi-disciplinary engineering team aims for breakthroughs in battery and fuel cell efficiency

October 15, 2018

Columbia Engineering has launched a new research center, the Columbia Electrochemical Energy Center (CEEC), to address energy storage and conversion using batteries and fuel cells in transformative ways that will ultimately enable the widespread use of renewable energy and the associated need for energy storage. The Center is co-directed by Alan C. West, Samuel Ruben-Peter G. Viele Professor of Electrochemistry, and Daniel Steingart, associate professor of earth and environmental engineering, who will join Columbia Engineering from Princeton University in January 2019.

The new center takes a whole systems approach, connecting engineers with a wide range of technical expertise and research interests to industry leaders and government policy makers. The center intends to establish a testbed to study how battery systems interact with other efficient technologies, including thermal storage. It will also to draw on the decade-long data and on-the-ground experience in rural areas in India and Africa to find solutions that are scalable and economically feasible. 

“By establishing a multi-disciplinary center dedicated to batteries and fuel cells, we are making a commitment not only to renewable energy and the associated need for energy storage, but to the larger goal of a more sustainable humanity,” said Mary Boyce, Dean of Columbia Engineering.

West, an expert in electrochemical systems, and Steingart, who is known for finding “out-of-the-box” solutions to complex problems, have assembled a team of professors whose collective expertise encompasses fundamental and applied research into batteries and fuel storage, with experience in applications ranging from electric cars to the power grid.

“That diversity of talent, with research spanning the atomic-scale through materials to large-scale systems, is one of the center’s greatest strengths,” says West. “By bringing together engineers from chemical, electrical, mechanical, and earth and environmental engineering, the potential for a breakthrough at the intersection of different fields is exponentially multiplied.”

Regulations and mandates to reduce greenhouse gases are driving research into battery storage and fuel cell technology. Unlike fossil-fueled power plants that produce electricity on demand, renewables such as wind, solar, and water require storage solutions on an unprecedented scale because sun and wind are intermittent energy sources.  As more people move to urban centers, energy requirements for transportation and buildings are also expected to grow.

The Center’s goals are to push the frontiers of electrochemical science and technologies needed for the widespread adoption of renewable electricity and to advance sustainable production of chemicals and fuels powered by renewable electricity. Ultimately, it will tackle the biggest challenges facing widespread adoption of electric transportation, clean urban buildings, grid-level storage of renewables, and the use of battery systems to provide access to energy to developing countries.

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