University of South Carolina

Record award to create Energy Frontier Research Center

The University of South Carolina has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to house a research center that is expected to bring $12.5 million in federal funding, the largest award in the university’s history, to a team of internationally recognized energy researchers in the College of Engineering and Computing.

"This award solidifies the university’s position as a leader in alternative-fuel research."

The center is one of 31 Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) being set up by DOE’s Office of Science at leading universities around the country for advanced scientific research on energy. Sixteen additional centers are being established at DOE national laboratories, non-profit organizations and private firms across the nation.

University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides says the award puts the university at the forefront of clean-energy research and will have a significant impact on local and state economy.

“This award solidifies the university’s position as a leader in alternative-fuel research,” Pastides says. “Moreover, it will advance the body of scientific knowledge related to alternative fuels and contribute to economic development in the Midlands and the Palmetto State.”

Led by Dr. Ken Reifsnider, an internationally recognized researcher in solid-oxide fuel cells and director of the university’s Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Center of Excellence, the University will concentrate on designing and creating materials essential for engineering devices such as:

  • fuel cells
  • electrolyzers
  • electrodes
  • photovoltaics
  • combustion devices
  • fuel-processing devices
  • functional membranes and coatings

A key element of the center’s research will focus on understanding the nano-structure and functionality of such materials.

Dr. Michael Amiridis, dean of the university’s College of Engineering and Computing, says the fact that the award process was competitive and conducted by a panel of scientists in the field indicates that South Carolina’s research is being recognized for its quality and competitiveness, both of which will boost recruitment of top students and faculty.

“The process for selecting these awards was very rigorous and was conducted by top scientists,” Amiridis says. “This is especially important for our team because it validates their research and shows that it is being recognized for its value and its implications for advancing science. It will definitely strengthen our competitiveness in recruiting top students and faculty.”

Reifsnider says the award is the culmination of a 20-year dream to find answers to fundamental questions about heterogeneous materials used in energy systems.

“It’s a dream that I have had for more than 20 years,” Reifsnider says. “These are the things that I sometimes would wake up in the night and think about. We are leading a major effort at the national and international levels, and our team of distinguished researchers is helping us do that. It is validation that we are doing something that is interesting and valuable.”

EFRC researchers nationwide will use the latest technology to advance the study of solar energy, biofuels, transportation, energy efficiency, electricity storage and transmission, clean-coal energy and nuclear energy.

Reifsnider’s team includes Dr. Frank Chen and Dr. Chris Xue, mechanical engineering; Dr. Hans-Conrad zur Loye, chemistry and biochemistry; and Dr. Andreas Heyden, chemical engineering.

Dr. Kenneth Reifsnider
Title: Chair, University of South Carolina's Center for Solid-Oxide Fuel Cells; director, University's Future Fuels Initiative; and professor of mechanical engineering
Research Interests: Reifsnider, former director of the Connecticut Global Fuel Cell Center, is an expert in the study of composite materials, specifically their application to fuel cells. He specializes in solid-oxide fuel cells, which offer greatest energy conversion efficiency compared to other fuel-cell types. 

Dr. Frank Chen
Title: Assistant professor, department of mechanical engineering
Research Interests: Chen's research interests include the synthesis and characterization of materials for energy conversion and storage, microstructure property relationship, electroceramics and solid-state ionic devices, electrochemical performance evaluation, materials and designs for solid-oxide fuel cells. Before joining the university’s faculty, Chen was a senior staff engineer for the United Technologies Research Center in Connecticut, where he led the solid-oxide fuel-cell and stack electrochemical-testing activities. 

Dr. Xingjian “Chris” Xue
Title: Assistant professor, department of mechanical engineering
Research Interests: Xue’s research and interests include fuel cells, electrochemical reactors and transport phenomenon in porous media, diagnosis of complex material systems through advanced measurement and modeling techniques, smart material and structural dynamics, controls with applications in mechanical and energy systems, multi-scale multi-physics modeling and numerical computation.

Dr. Andreas Heyden
Title: Assistant professor, department of chemical engineering
Research Interests: Heyden’s research interests are in the areas of nanomaterial science and heterogeneous catalysis. His lab is working to use computer simulations to obtain a molecular  understanding of key issues in these areas, such as the self-assembly process in catalyst synthesis, the structure of small metal clusters on high-surface-area supports, and the structure-performance relationship of single-site heterogeneous catalysts. 

Dr. Hans-Conrad zur Loye
Title: David W. Robinson Palmetto Professor, department of chemistry and biochemistry, College of Arts and Sciences
Research Interests: zur Loye’s research interests include inorganic materials chemistry; synthesis of novel solid-state materials and characterization of their physical properties; investigation of cooperative structure-property relationships; crystal growth of low-dimensional oxides and investigation of their electronic and magnetic properties; the synthesis of organic/inorganic framework materials; and synthesis of polymer nanocomposites.

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By Office of Media Relations

Posted: 05/01/09 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 11/09/09 @ 1:55 PM | Permalink