2014 Resonate Award Winners
Resonate Award recipient for catalyzing chemical reactions for renewable energy production and storage.
Thomas Francisco Jaramillo is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Stanford University. His Resonate Award winning work focuses on the creation of materials at the atomic scale that drive chemical reactions important for renewable energy production and storage. His endeavors have led to the discovery of stable, earth-abundant catalysts for renewable hydrogen production from water and for converting CO2 into fuels and chemicals in a sustainable manner. Jaramillo's materials can replace expensive and scarce metals currently used, and thus improve the economics of sustainable fuel production. Jaramillo did his undergraduate research work at Stanford University and received his PhD from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He has received many honors for his work in electrocatalysis.
Even if we could totally decarbonize electricity, we would still emit vast quantities of greenhouse gases from burning fuels for transportation. Catalysis today enables the production of important industrial chemicals and in the future has huge potential to produce fuels from renewable sources like sunlight, water and carbon dioxide. Expanding our knowledge of how we can accelerate and catalyze chemical reactions efficiently and sustainably is a major global challenge relative to achieving a clean energy economy. This is the challenge Thomas Jaramillo's work addresses. Through electrochemical investigation, he is discovering sustainable pathways for the production of fuels and chemicals.
Jaramillo's research responds to the challenge of finding catalysts that are efficient, stable, selective in producing desired products, and affordable. His approach to designing materials at the atomic scale moves away from randomized trial and error. Instead he uses theory and experiment to help identify and improve catalysts that can enable key chemical transformations. The reactions he's advancing are those that convert water and CO2 into fuels and chemicals using renewable energy (i.e. solar and wind), and those that convert those fuels back into useable energy in the form of electricity.
The ultimate long-term benefit of improving these chemical transformations is greater integration of renewable energy to displace our dependence on fossil fuels. Enabling a means to synthesize fuels sustainably would significantly reduce green house gas emissions. Solving these problems could also increase energy security in the US and across the globe, while also helping to slow or reverse our climate impact.
Resonate Award recipient for designing flexible impact-focused investment models to fund innovative ventures offering scalable solutions to global social problems.
Sarah Kearney is the Founder and Executive Director of PRIME Coalition, a membership-based nonprofit that connects philanthropists and private investors to high-risk, high-reward startups addressing climate change and other global social problems. Kearney is receiving this year's Resonate Award as a result of her insight that raising capital for complex sustainability problems requires a new, flexible, impact-optimized investment model. The PRIME coalition leverages grants and program-related investments or PRIs to close gaps in current funding sources, starting with the invention-to-impact gap in early-stage clean energy innovation. Sarah holds a BS in commerce from the University of Virginia and an MS from MIT's Engineering Systems Division. Kearney also sits on the boards of Community Water Solutions and Refuel, a network of women working in cleantech.
Financing breakthrough energy startups and for-profit ventures engaged in addressing global social problems is challenging, and funding has steadily declined in recent years. Because these ventures are risky, capital-intensive and often can't promise financial returns within a competitive timeframe, they are a poor fit with traditional venture capital. Philanthropic grants, which focus on making an impact rather than a financial return, can help get ideas off the ground inside university labs, but are not currently being used to transition basic science and engineering into real world impact.
Sarah Kearney founded the PRIME Coalition to address this challenge and to provide charitable asset owners – private foundations, corporate foundations and family offices – with the resources they need to commercialize the most impactful technologies of tomorrow. While conducting research about options for charitable investors, Sarah recognized that grants structured as equity or debt can be made to for-profit companies as a powerful tool for addressing global social problems. This type of grant is known as a program-related investment (PRI) and PRIME is helping foundations to harness this mechanism to enliven the cleantech sector with capital that can sit between grants for social return and venture funds for financial return to create a new class of philanthropic venture investors motivated by social good.
PRIME's primary goal is to drastically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to avoid catastrophic climate change. In order to achieve this goal, PRIME is forming a membership group comprised of foundations interested in PRIs and impact investors interested in high-risk, high-reward opportunities. PRIME will provide the tools these members need to make effective investments into cleantech companies and projects that will not otherwise be supported.
Resonate Award Recipient for developing materials for safe, efficient battery storage for EVs and the grid.
Shinichi Komaba is a Professor of Applied Chemistry at Tokyo University of Science and a Project Professor at Kyoto University. Professor Komaba is receiving the 2014 Resonate Award for his research in energy storage, which is aimed at making batteries safer and more efficient. Shinichi has developed anode and cathode materials for sodium-ion batteries and safer lithium-ion battery systems. Breakthroughs in these systems show promise toward realizing zero-emission vehicles and mitigating the power variability of incorporating renewable energy into the grid. After obtaining his PhD from Waseda University, Komaba joined Iwate University in 1998. From 2003 to 2004, he also worked at Institut de Chimie de la Matière Condensée de Bordeaux, France, as a postdoctoral research fellow. In 2005, he moved to Tokyo University of Science as a faculty member.
Komaba's work engages the challenges of energy storage and conversion. Energy storage is crucial to maintaining a stable supply of energy and allows for increased adoption of intermittent renewables into the grid. Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries have been viewed as potential storage solutions for use at stationary power sources and in transportation, however there are many unresolved safety and performance issues that must be addressed. Additionally, lithium resources are scarce or unevenly distributed across the globe, increasing their price and necessitating research into affordable alternatives.
Komaba has developed safer lithium-ion systems that incorporate a nonflammable liquid electrolyte. This could mitigate the primary problem hindering the large-scale adoption of lithium-ion batteries for transportation, which is electrolyte flammability. He has also developed anode and cathode materials from earth abundant sources to develop some of the highest energy sodium-ion batteries to date.
Breakthroughs in sodium ion batteries and safer lithium ion systems show promise toward realizing cost effective zero-emission vehicles and mitigating the power variability of incorporating renewable energy sources into the grid.
Resonate Award recipient for building a computational backbone to transform the power grid into one that is flexible, smart and dynamic.
Javad Lavaei is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Columbia University. He is receiving the 2014 Resonate Award for solving hard computational challenges, like the optimal power flow problem, that provide a scalable framework for incorporating distributed solar, storage and other resources into the electricity grid in an efficient and cost-effective manner. This research uniquely uses nonconvex math to fuse power systems knowledge, control and optimization theory, economics and computer science to enable robust control systems for a dynamic grid. Lavaie obtained his PhD in control & dynamical systems from the California Institute of Technology and held a one-year postdoc position jointly with Electrical Engineering and Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University. He is a senior member of IEEE and has won many awards for his research.
Javad's work addresses the grand challenge of modernizing the 100-year-old electrical power grid. The goals of modernizing the grid include: improving security, efficiency and reliability, reducing pollutant emissions, replacing fossil-fuel energy with renewable energy and continued satisfaction of future demand growth. Design, upgrade and operation of the grid depends on difficult and complex optimization problems that are solved on varying time scales. In addition to these problems, new computational algorithms are needed to incorporate sustainable energy into the grid without destabilizing the system.
Javad uses complex math to fuse power systems knowledge, control and optimization theory, economics and computer science to enable robust control systems for a dynamic grid. He has been able to find hidden structures in power optimization problems that can be exploited to simplify them. Solving these problems provides a scalable framework for incorporation of distributed solar, storage and other resources into the electricity grid in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
The long-term benefits of designing efficient computational methods for the power grid include: reducing electricity costs through a cheaper way of dispatching power, decreasing the likelihood of power outages by maximizing reliability and robustness of the grid, and reducing greenhouse gas emission by optimally utilizing sustainable energy.
Resonate Award recipient for research and development of scalable, environmentally benign, low cost grid-scale energy storage.
Jay Whitacre is an Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon University and Founder and CTO of Aquion Energy. Professor Whitacre's receipt of the 2014 Resonate Award honors his contribution to the grand challenge of finding safe, reliable, cost-effective, sustainable energy storage solutions. He developed a novel sodium-based aqueous electrolyte battery technology based on low cost functional materials. His company, Aquion, is in the process of launching the product for stationary energy storage in both on-grid and off-grid applications. Professor Whitacre received a BA in physics from Oberlin College and MSE and PhD degrees from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He started his career at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and in 2007 he accepted a professorship at Carnegie Mellon University. In 2008 he founded Aquion Energy, a company that has since garnered over $100 M in funding.
Energy storage is essential for grid flexibility and stability. Storage balances supply and demand and modulates the increased use of wind and solar power, as well as EVs and responsive demand. As such, storage can improve the management of distribution networks, reduce costs, accelerate the decarbonisation of the grid and improve efficiency. The main challenge for energy storage has been economic. There are multiple issues that must be overcome in energy storage ranging from fundamental materials issues such as finding stable, low-cost components to market adoption rate of a productized solution.
Jay has developed a novel sodium-based aqueous electrolyte battery technology based on low cost functional materials. His company, Aquion Energy, is in the process of launching the product for stationary energy storage in both on grid and off-grid applications. The Aquion storage solution utilizes earth-abundant, nontoxic materials: each unit has a manganese oxide cathode and carbon composite anode separated by a synthetic cotton barrier set in a sodium sulfate electrolyte. The units are modular and assemble as a kit of parts enhancing their scalability and keeping costs low.
Full-scale production and adoption of this new storage technology will result in a net decrease in greenhouse gas emissions via a more efficient grid. It will increase the use of renewable power sources and enable a highly distributed micro-grid based power system for regions with emerging economies and little to no existing grid structure.