Energy Research Seed Fund Awards Six Grants to Duke Faculty to Kickstart Projects

Energy Research Seed Fund.
The Energy Research Seed Fund has a strong track record of investing in early-stage projects that go on to secure external support.

In 2020-2021, the Duke University Energy Initiative’s Energy Research Seed Fund will support projects addressing renewable energy’s integration into the grid, battery performance, electrochemical catalysts, utilities’ decision-making, the energy-water nexus, and energy’s connections with war and health.

The program will award six grants to projects involving thirteen faculty members from five Duke schools, investing a total of $249,590 in promising new energy research.

In this—the seventh annual round of funding—the Energy Initiative awarded five seed grants for new interdisciplinary projects and one stage-two grant to support the next phase of a previously funded project.

The first six rounds of funding from the Energy Research Seed Fund totaled $1,458,491. As of fall 2019, those rounds had generated more than three times their value in follow-on awards for Duke research.

“Even as we experience a period of social distancing, scholarly collaboration is still thriving at Duke, as these promising projects demonstrate,” notes Dr. Brian Murray, director of the Energy Initiative. “We look forward to the continued progress—and the potentially transformative outcomes—of these early-stage efforts to address our world’s energy challenges.”

The 2020 round of awards is co-funded by the Energy Initiative, the Office of the Provost, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, and the Pratt School of Engineering.

Funded Projects in 2020-21

Seed Grants

Generating Virtual Inertia through Crowds of Photovoltaic Inverters
More electric power systems are relying on renewable energy coupled with power electronics, which has led to the retirement of synchronous generators. The resulting loss of inertia (energy stored in a rotating mass) threatens power systems’ stability and renewables’ continued growth. This project will develop a novel distributed control framework that operates on existing photovoltaic (PV) inverters to contribute virtual inertia and other grid-supportive functions. A 100% renewable, proof-of-concept microgrid will be used to demonstrate the framework’s effectiveness.

Project Team:
Stefan Goetz: Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesDuke University School of Medicine and Electrical and Computer EngineeringPratt School of Engineering [Member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences]
Miroslav Pajic: Electrical and Computer EngineeringPratt School of Engineering and Computer Science, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
Jingyang Fang: Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University School of Medicine

Developing Computed Tomography-Based 3D Temperature Mapping for Battery Failure
Overheating of lithium-ion batteries can lead to premature degradation and catastrophic failure, including explosions. But current methods of measuring battery temperature are far from ideal. This project will develop a new method—X-ray thermal computed tomography— to more accurately map the temperature profile of lithium-ion batteries at the resolution of tens of microns.

Project Team:
Po-Chun Hsu: Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Pratt School of Engineering
Cristian Badea: Radiology, Duke University School of Medicine and Biomedical Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering

The Energy-Health Nexus in Wars in the Middle East
The destruction of civilian infrastructure, particularly energy infrastructure, is a prevalent feature of war-making in protracted conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. This project will examine health impacts of the destruction of energy infrastructure as well as efforts to restore and rebuild it. The project will advance understanding of the connection between energy access and health outcomes and will identify best practices for energy infrastructure maintenance and reconstruction in countries affected by conflict.

Project Team:
Erika Weinthal: Nicholas School of the Environment and Sanford School of Public Policy [Affiliate of Duke Science and Society]
Jeannie Sowers: Political Science, University of New Hampshire

AI-Assisted Design and Synthesis of High-Entropy Materials
High-entropy materials offer unique, otherwise unattainable surface atomic structures that can help solve long-standing catalysis problems. This project will combine rapid synthesis and AI-based materials design to demonstrate the use of high-entropy materials as electrochemical catalysts, with the potential to impact a broad class of chemical reactions.

Project Team:
Jie Liu: Chemistry, Trinity School of Arts & Sciences
Stefano Curtarolo: Mechanical Engineering and Material Science, Pratt School of Engineering and Physics, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

The Energy-Water Nexus in India
Electricity is crucial to economic development but expanding its use can lead to severe environmental issues. This is especially true in countries like India, where a primarily coal-based electrical system contributes to air pollution (from the emission of fly ash) and water contamination (from acid mine drainage). This project will address some of these key issues by evaluating the potential uses of natural gas found in shallow groundwater, of geothermal groundwater for heating, and of coal ash to neutralize and remove toxic metals from acid mine drainage.

Project Team:
Avner Vengosh: Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke Global Health Institute, and Duke Kunshan University
Adrian Bejan: Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Pratt School of Engineering

Stage-Two Grants

Enabling Better Energy Decisions through Better Interpretable Causal Inference
As power grids age, demand grows, and power becomes less reliable, power companies must adapt legacy grids and create new programs to cope with changing times. But those companies are currently struggling to determine what types of changes will produce their desired outcomes. This project builds on a previous seed grant to combine causal inference methods with ideas from machine learning to produce an approach for matching in causal inference that is substantially more accurate, interpretative, and scalable than any other method.

Project Team:
Cynthia RudinComputer Science and MathematicsTrinity College of Arts & SciencesElectrical and Computer Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering
Sudeepa Roy: Computer ScienceTrinity College of Arts & Sciences
Alexander Volfovsky: Statistical Science, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Originally posted on the Duke University Energy Initiative website

Start or Advance an Innovative Project through the Energy Research Seed Fund

Energy Research Seed Fund.

Deadline: February 14, 2020

Since 2014, the Duke University Energy Initiative’s Energy Research Seed Fund has kickstarted new interdisciplinary research teams to launch innovative projects—sparking collaboration among scholars from the basic sciences, engineering, social sciences, humanities, and other disciplines. The fund helps Duke researchers obtain important preliminary results they can use to secure external funding or otherwise expand future scholarly collaboration.

Thanks to generous support from the Office of the Provost, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, and the Pratt School of Engineering, we are pleased to invite proposals from Duke faculty to any of the following grant categories:

  • Stage-One Grants will provide up to $45,000 for Duke faculty embarking on new interdisciplinary projects. At least two members of the proposed research team must represent different disciplines, schools, or departments. The performance period for Stage-One Grants is 12 months.
  • Stage-Two Grants will provide up to $35,000 to carry projects currently supported by the Energy Research Seed Fund into their next research phase. Applications for Stage- Two grants should indicate successful completion of work conducted under the current grant and outline how additional funding will help make the team’s research more compelling to external funders.
  • Proposal Development Grants will provide up to $25,000 for past Energy Research Seed Fund grantees to develop proposals for external funding. Applicants for these grants should provide a one-page proposal indicating how the funds will be used (acceptable uses include travel to meet with potential sponsors, support for Ph.D. student assistants, etc.), and how those uses will improve the likelihood of external funding.

Proposals are due Friday, February 14, 2020 (see submission details below).

The Seed Fund program is open to proposals on energy-inspired research topics from researchers across a full spectrum of disciplines. This year, we particularly welcome proposals in the following areas:

  • Energy humanities
  • Energy data analytics and big data, especially projects that build on results from previous/existing Data+ teams or that are well-positioned to develop data that can be analyzed in a future Data+ project
  • Energy materials, advanced alternative fuels, and renewables
  • Energy markets, regulatory tools, and standards
  • Grid reliability and resilience
  • Energy access and inequality

Requirements

Eligible Applicants

The Principal Investigator must be a regular-rank faculty member at Duke University, but other investigators on the proposing team can be Duke faculty, staff, or students. Likewise, the proposed team may include external collaborators, but funding may only be used to cover the logistics (travel, etc.) of the collaboration.

Budgets

The budget for an Energy Research Seed Fund research team (or working group) can include supplies, salary support for research assistants, students, and technicians, and other justifiable research expenses. Faculty salary, tuition remission, and indirect costs are not allowable expenses. Travel expenses are allowable only if essential to conducting the proposed research activities and cannot include travel to scientific conferences. All proposal budgets must be submitted using this template provided or they will not be considered.

Application Content (Stage-One Grants and Stage-Two Grants)

Cover Page. Must include the following information:

  • Proposal title
  • Name, title, departmental affiliation, address, e-mail address, and telephone number of all proposed investigators
  • Designation of a Principal Investigator or Co-Principal Investigators

Abstract (250 words maximum)

Research plan (3 page maximum – single spaced, 12 point font, 1” margins all the way around) Must include the following information:

  • Statement of research objectives and their significance
  • Work already completed related to the proposal, and any relevant preliminary results (Stage-Two Grant proposals should indicate how the project’s second year will build on results of research supported by the prior Stage-One Grant)
  • Description of the research team (working group) and research setting
  • Proposed methods and plans for data analysis
  • Potential for sustained collaboration beyond the project term (Stage-Two Grant proposals should discuss the likelihood of external funding)

Appendix materials (1 page maximum each– single spaced, 12 point font, 1” margins all the way around) Must include the following information:

  • Research schedule and milestones
  • Collaborative nature of the project
  • Relevance to mission of the Duke University Energy Initiative (energy.duke.edu/about)
  • Budget and justification (1 page maximum)
  • Curriculum vitae OR NSF/NIH biosketch including current grant support limited to 4 pages for each investigator
Application Content (Proposal Development Grants)

A one-page proposal describing the project and indicating how the funds will be used to increase the likelihood of external funding.

Submission Format and Deadline

Please combine all required elements into a single PDF document and submit via email—with ERSF Submission in the subject line—by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, February 14, 2019 to: Will Niver, Duke University Energy Initiative via email at will.niver@duke.edu.

Review Criteria and Selection Process

Proposals will be reviewed by an ad hoc review committee consisting of faculty with a broad range of expertise in energy-related fields. The reviewing committee’s goal is to identify the proposals that best meet the objectives of the Energy Initiative’s Energy Research Seed Fund: interdisciplinary collaborative research projects that will address crucial questions related to energy. The review process will consider: (1) the significance and potential impact of the research program; (2) the degree of innovation; (3) the scope of the interdisciplinary collaboration and relevance for the goals of the proposed research; (4) feasibility of the research project: (5) likelihood of development into a sustained collaboration; and (6) (for Stage-Two and Proposal Development Grants) likelihood of obtaining external funding. Final selections will be made by the Energy Initiative Director in consultation with the faculty review committee and other stakeholders, with the goal of applying the fund (approximately $200,000 for this round of awards) toward a diverse group of projects with a strong likelihood of success.

Awards will be announced in April 2020.

Reporting Requirements

Recipients will be expected to report on the project’s status and any related outputs (journal articles, conference presentations, external grants, etc.) at the end of the performance period.

Inquiries

Please direct questions to Will Niver, Research Analyst, Duke University Energy Initiative via email at will.niver@duke.edu.

See further information: energy.duke.edu/research/resources/seed-fund

Kyle Bradbury on Improving Global Energy Access through Machine Learning and Collaboration

Kyle Bradbury and Bass Connections team members.
Kyle Bradbury (far left) and members of the 2018-19 Bass Connections project team Energy Data Analytics Lab: Energy Infrastructure Map of the World through Satellite Data (Photo: Energy Initiative)

Kyle Bradbury is managing director of the Energy Data Analytics Lab at the Duke University Energy Initiative. Recently, the Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke (iiD) asked him to explain what he works on and how he involves students through the Data+ and Bass Connections programs. Here are excerpts from their conversation:

Locating Energy Infrastructure Using Satellite Imagery

My research focuses on how we can make energy systems more affordable, accessible, reliable, and clean using machine learning and data analysis tools. The team that I work with, we’re working on questions around understanding where energy infrastructure is using satellite imagery. One of the challenges in this space is called geographic domain adaptation. If I have an algorithm that’s able to find solar panels in California and I train my algorithm there, how am I able to then use that to find solar panels in Africa, Asia, or Europe? Being able to transfer that can really increase the impact of the research that we’re doing, but it leads to a lot of challenging technical issues.

Energy Access

Another research area that I’ve been working on with other members of the team is looking at how we can use data to address some of the challenges in the energy access space. Right now there are close to a billion people around the world that don’t have access to electricity, but we don’t necessarily know which specific communities lack access, and we don’t always know where the grid infrastructure is that could potentially provide access to electricity.

Student Engagement

iiD has been a fantastic resource, especially with their program Data+. Data+ is a ten-week summer program for undergraduates to deeply engage in a data-focused research project. Over the last few years, we’ve engaged numerous undergraduates to help us with our research. They produced datasets and laid the foundation for dozens of research papers that have been able to answer some of these really challenging questions at the intersection of energy systems and machine learning.

This year, Bradbury is leading a Bass Connections project team, A Wider Lens on Energy: Adapting Deep Learning Techniques to Inform Energy Access Decisions, which builds on the work of last summer’s related Data+ project.

Video by the Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke (iiD)

Four Groups of Duke Faculty Receive Collaboratory Grants for Research on Issues Affecting North Carolina and Global Communities

Yadkin River, NC; solar panels; summary ejectments per square mile in Durham; Bass Connections research in Madagascar.
Yadkin River, NC; solar panels; summary ejectments per square mile in Durham; Bass Connections research in Madagascar

Four groups led by Duke University faculty have been awarded Collaboratory grants for research into pressing local and global challenges.

“From investigations in our own backyard into evaluating water safety and lessening the impact of evictions on child development, to research aimed at increasing solar energy efficiency and minimizing the spread of infectious diseases on a global scale, these proposals speak to our dedication to improving the human condition,” said Provost Sally Kornbluth. “Supporting faculty research is an essential way to advance the fundamental learning and discovery at which we excel, and those investments provide ripple effects that benefit teaching and service.”

The grant period is one year with a possibility of renewal.

Drinking Water Contamination in North Carolina: Water Use, Human Health, and Going Beyond GenX

  • Principal Investigators: Heather M. Stapleton, Nicholas School of the Environment; Lee Ferguson, Pratt School of Engineering and Nicholas School of the Environment

Changes in water availability, increases in pollution, and policy regulations are resulting in substantial challenges for water protection, and consumers bear the social and economic burden when drinking water sources are contaminated. One of the most relevant threats to public drinking water in the U.S. is a class of chemicals called poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). These chemicals made local headlines in 2017 when news stations reported contamination of drinking water wells with “GenX” in New Hanover and Brunswick counties.

In 2018, the state legislature appropriated several million dollars for testing all surface waters across the state. Despite the broad documentation of PFAS contamination, no funding was included to evaluate health impacts on affected communities or to identify sources.

This collaboratory will build a water model to help identify potential point source(s) of PFAS contamination, and underlying variables influencing the water levels, in the Piedmont region. In addition, the researchers will examine the relationship between water levels and biological PFAS levels, and conduct geospatial analyses to determine if poorer health outcomes at birth are associated with areas of higher PFAS contamination. The group will also investigate effects of PFAS on birth outcomes using an animal model, and integrate environmental and human health knowledge into management and policy recommendations regarding water use policies.

Minimizing the Influence of Air Pollution on Solar Energy Production

Particulate matter, including air pollution and dust, has dramatic impacts on both climate and human health. It also reduces solar energy production by about 15% on a global average and as much as 40% in some regions. This current loss in efficiency is estimated to account for the loss of power output valued in the tens of billions of dollars annually, dramatically affecting cost effectiveness and renewable energy access. The problem is not well understood and few studies are available that quantify the impacts, although it will become increasingly important with solar power production expected to increase globally by nearly four-fold over the next 20 years.

This collaboratory will assess the regional impacts of air pollution on solar energy production, determine cost-effective strategies to minimize the influence of particulate matter on solar energy production, and develop and test novel surfaces and coatings that hold great promise in minimizing the influence of deposited particulate matter on solar energy production.

Evaluating and Mitigating the Impact of Evictions and Other Housing Insecurity Issues over Health and Child Development in North Carolina

  • Additional Team Members: Jillian Hurst, School of Medicine; Sarah Dickerson, postdoctoral associate, Sanford School of Public Policy; graduate and professional students

In the U.S., 10-15% of households experience housing insecurity. For families with young children, this number is much higher. Lack of secure housing is associated with a host of health consequences including psychological distress and exacerbating chronic conditions. For children, housing instability is associated with increased problem behaviors, respiratory conditions, infectious diseases, and decreased access to healthcare. In Durham, 16% of children aged 0-8 live in a household where housing costs exceed 50% of the household income—leaving few resources for other needs such as food, clothing, and transportation.

This collaboratory brings together a multidisciplinary team to study how housing insecurity affects children’s health and education and what policy solutions may be implemented to mitigate the associated harms. To inform evidence-based policies and help communities promote population-level health, this study will assess patterns of population movement in Durham County and the relationship of these patterns with housing insecurity, examine the effects of housing insecurity and evictions on the education of children across North Carolina and in Durham County specifically, and investigate the effects of housing insecurity and evictions on children’s healthcare utilization and health status in Durham County.

Identifying Infectious Disease Transmission Pathways for Improved Population Health and Pandemic Preparedness

  • Principal Investigators: Charles L. Nunn, Evolutionary Anthropology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; Randall Kramer, Nicholas School of the Environment; James Moody, Sociology, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; Linfa Wang, Duke-NUS Medical School
  • Additional Team Members: Alma Solis, Ph.D. student in Evolutionary Anthropology; other graduate students

The title of a recent high-profile Commentary in Nature proclaimed, “Pandemics: Spend on surveillance, not prediction.” If resources and time were unlimited, scientists would exhaustively sample wild animals, domesticated animals, and humans, and they would fully investigate the ecological contexts in which transmission occurs; all of these foci are crucial for predicting disease emergence. Given the reality of limited resources, new approaches are needed to deepen understanding of disease transmission pathways from animals to humans.

This collaboratory will use new surveillance tools and apply analytical frameworks from network epidemiology to disentangle the drivers of disease transmission at the human-animal ecological interface. The group’s research takes place in rural Madagascar. Members will collect and analyze blood samples and expand socioeconomic data collection; this research will provide crucial pilot data to increase the competitiveness of external grant submissions, while also providing opportunities for students involved in the research to publish early findings and present those findings at conferences. In addition to collecting data in the field and shipping samples to Singapore for analysis, funding will enable us to develop new analytical pipelines for network epidemiological analyses, including with graduate students on Duke’s campus.

About the Collaboratory Grants

Part of the Together Duke academic strategic plan, Collaboratory grants provide support for groups of faculty seeking to provide solutions to targeted problems in three areas:

  • Energy and water resources
  • Race, religion, and citizenship
  • Population health.

Over time, these thematic areas will likely evolve. Project funding ranges from $20,000 to $200,000 annually. The offices of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies and the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs oversee this seed grant program.

The first round of Collaboratory grants was announced in April 2018. The six groups and principal investigators were Decisions, Risks, and Governance of Geoengineering (Mark Borsuk, Jonathan Wiener, Billy Pizer, Drew Shindell); Innovations in Infrastructure (Megan Mullin, Amy Pickle); The Duke Polarization Lab (Christopher Bail); Understanding the Transforming U.S. South (Kerry L. Haynie, John Aldrich, Linda Burton, Adriane Lentz-Smith, Mark Anthony Neal, Donald Taylor); The Duke University Precision Health and Wellness Initiative (Geoff Ginsburg, Susanne Haga); and A Road Map for Affordable Healthcare in the 21st Century (Nimmi Ramanujam).

Graduate Network Catalyzes Research on China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Kickoff event.
Kick-off event for the Riding the Belt and Road network on September 7, 2018

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a mammoth undertaking that seeks to establish a “new Silk Road” linking China with over 60 countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Last spring, five Duke graduate students received a Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks (D-SIGN) grant to establish Riding the Belt and Road. The group aimed to ignite a discussion among students and faculty members on multiple facets of the Belt Road Initiative, with a focus on environmental impacts. Below are excerpts from their report.

Catalyzed by a D-SIGN grant in 2018-2019 and housed at the Duke University Energy Initiative, the Riding the Belt and Road network we built together has ignited discussions among students and faculty members on multiple facets of BRI, including its historical and geopolitical background, financial arrangement, business practices and impacts on environment, energy, and development in general.

Our network complements and extends existing BRI efforts led by faculty members, especially from the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, supports students to attend BRI workshop and conferences, and offers the platform for students to present and get feedback for their own research projects related to BRI. Our network leverages the existing website on the Belt and Road Initiative hosted by the website of the Center for International & Global Studies (DUCIGS).

“The purpose of building a network, unlike a research project, is to provide support and create linkages. On a cutting-edge topic like BRI, there are many ongoing research projects across the campus – both at Duke and at DKU, but researchers – graduate students and faculty members alike – do not always have the time and efforts to be connected and to benefit from others’ perspectives. Our network fills this gap and connects the dots.”

Yating Li, Ph.D. student in Environmental Economics

Our network raised awareness and initiated conversations around the BRI issues within the Duke community by providing a platform to share research progress for Duke graduate students and faculty members and by inviting world-renowned researchers to give talks and hold discussions with students.

Mia Bennett.
Mia Bennett

On September 7, over 60 students and faculty members attended our kick-off event. The presenters included Jackson Ewing, Lydia Olander, Elizabeth Losos, Seth Morgan, Sara Mason, Erik Myxter-lino, Xiaolan You, Zainab Qazi, and Yating Li, covering a wide range of perspectives including roads and power plants, ecosystem impact, a framework to understand what leads to greener projects, and the implication of machine learning techniques to identify infrastructure.

With DUCIGS, we cohosted a lunch conversation with Charles Stevens, cofounder of The New Silk Road Project.

We hosted Mia Bennett, Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong. She discussed how the BRI can be studied from space using remote sensing, specifically nighttime-light imagery.

With support from the Nicholas Institute, we brought together Ariel BenYishay from the College of William and Mary and Rebecca Ray from Boston University to discuss how we can construct a sustainable future.

“The opportunity to meet Dr. BenYishay and Dr. Ray was particularly beneficial for me and other graduate students who interacted with them. Dr. BenYishay discussed his work with AidData at length and spent time fielding questions from students both during the panel and afterward in an informal graduate student session. This event is one example of the ways in which Riding the Belt and Road was instrumental in helping me form research questions related to sustainable infrastructure and rural development. The network has been a key sounding board as I have explored the data requirements for my research and contributed to policy reports on the impacts of roads on forests.”

Seth Morgan, Ph.D. student in Environmental Policy

In October 2018, the network supported three graduate students to attend the Duke-DKU International Symposium on Environmentally and Socially Responsible Outbound Foreign Direct Investment, hosted at Duke Kunshan University, China. A set of events over five days addressed how to understand and plan for China’s vast increase in infrastructure investment abroad, especially for projects that are part of the BRI.

“My participation at the conferences gave me professional contacts and access to cutting-edge researchers in the field. Furthermore, the opportunity assisted greatly in my master’s project that focused on Chinese state-owned enterprises’ internationalization process in the Belt and Road era.” He adds, “Being a part of Riding the Belt and Road D-SIGN group was one of the main highlights of my graduate school experience as it expanded my intellectual capacity to look at my specific subfield of research interests through the lens of disciplines I had limited exposure to prior.”

Erik Myxter-lino, research assistant at the Nicholas Institute and graduate student at NC State University

Building on the discussion during the October workshop, an international institutional collaboration – Gateway for Sustainable Infrastructure – was proposed by Elizabeth Losos and Lydia Olander from the Nicholas Institute. Our network supported a follow-up workshop on April 17 to further the discussion on areas of collaboration among key participants around the world.

“We could have held a series of seminars and conferences on our own, but involving the graduate students from the Riding the Belt and Road D-SIGN network greatly enhanced our programs in several ways. Most immediately, the D-SIGN group actively promoted the programs and encouraged their classmates to participate. But the group also helped mold our research directions by active involvement in discussions of research and workshop agendas, selection of speakers, and critiques of masters projects. These graduate students were full colleagues in every sense. I look forward to continuing to work with many of them while they are still at Duke and hopefully beyond.”

Elizabeth Losos, Senior Fellow at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

The network supported one group masters project, one individual masters project, and one Ph.D. dissertation chapter.

  • Jiaxin Guo, Mya Nwe, Zainab Qazi, Shuyi Zhou, “Assessing the Environmental Sustainability Potential of BRI Countries under the Five Connectivities Framework”
  • Erik Myxter-lino, “State-owned Enterprises within the Belt and Road Initiative: Conducting the State’s Business or Conducting Business with the State’s Assistance?”
  • Yating Li, “Environmental Impact of Overseas Coal-fired Power Plants Financed by China”

“The BRI network at Duke has been an invaluable source of mentoring for our Master’s Project. Our group focused on assessing the environmental sustainability potential of BRI recipient countries conducive to keeping the BRI projects green vis-à-vis the Chinese overseas investments. In particular, our Master’s Project used China’s Five Connectivities framework to assess the varied capacities of BRI participants as countries with distinct sociopolitical and economic contexts and the subsequent bilateral ties with China. We hope that our project serves as a primary investigation into environmental sustainability assessment of the BRI countries and a stepping-stone for further case studies along different regional corridors.”

Zainab Qazi, Master of Environmental Management student

For the leaders, network participants, and the Duke community, our Riding the Belt and Road Network has been a gateway to understand the multiple facets of the Belt and Road Initiative. Our network’s success in this regard has been driven by the support of faculty members and staff from at least four key institutions: the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, the Center for International & Global Studies, the Duke University Energy Initiative, and the International Master of Environmental Policy (iMEP) at Duke Kunshan University.

In particular, we are grateful for the guidance and support provided by our faculty mentors: Professors Billy PizerElizabeth LososIndermit GillKathinka Fürst. We would also like to acknowledge research contributions by Fanqi (Vicky) Jia and Yingyu Fu. We are confident that, moving forward, the network we built will continue to facilitate discussions around BRI at Duke, galvanize interests in sustainable infrastructure, and support evidence-based planning of large-scale infrastructure projects.

Meet the 2019-20 Energy Data Analytics Ph.D. Student Fellows

EDAL fellows.

The Duke University Energy Initiative has selected its second cohort of Energy Data Analytics Ph.D. Student Fellows, which will include doctoral students in civil and environmental engineering, computer science, earth and ocean sciences, and electrical and computer engineering.

Launched in 2018, the one-of-a-kind fellows program is designed to produce scholars with expertise in both data science and energy application domains.

“Recent developments in machine learning and data science techniques have paved the way for better decisions about how we generate, transmit, and consume energy,” explains Brian Murray, director of the Duke University Energy Initiative. “The doctoral fellows program is designed to push past traditional disciplinary boundaries to prepare next-generation scholars to pursue the accessible, affordable, reliable, and clean energy systems our world needs.”

The second cohort of fellows include four doctoral students:

Alina Barnett

Alina is a second-year computer science Ph.D. student working in the Prediction Analysis Lab. Her project focuses on identifying buildings with poor insulation to better inform civic planning and policy.

Bohao Huang

Bohao Huang is a second-year Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering at the Pratt School of Engineering. Working in the Applied Machine Learning Lab, he is interested in leveraging advances in deep learning to develop algorithms that can automatically extract energy systems information from aerial imagery.

Jun Shepard

Jun is a Ph.D. student in earth and ocean sciences at the Nicholas School of the Environment. By studying energy systems in the context of trade, Jun hopes to better understand international energy security.

Tongshu Zheng

Tongshu Zheng is a Ph.D. student in civil and environmental engineering at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering. Tongshu’s project considers leveraging data-driven techniques to develop a satellite-based remote sensing algorithm to accurately assess the loss in solar energy production due to particulate matter air pollution.

Each fellow will conduct a related research project for nine months, working with faculty from multiple disciplines. Learn more about the fellows’ backgrounds and their 2019-2020 research projects. 

In addition to funding equivalent to one-half of a full fellowship for an academic year, fellows will receive conference travel support and data acquisition support up to $2,000, as well as priority access to virtual machines, storage, and other computational resources. Research conducted by the first two cohorts of fellows will be highlighted at a symposium at Duke University in spring 2020.

Students in the first cohort of fellows have affirmed the value of the program’s multidisciplinary approach, reporting that it has strengthened dissertation chapters, encouraged them to present their work publicly, provided computational resources, and driven their engagement with real-world energy problems.

The program is organized by the Duke’s Energy Data Analytics Lab, a collaboration among three of the university’s signature interdisciplinary units: Duke University Energy Initiative (which houses it), Rhodes Information Initiative, and Social Science Research Institute (SSRI).

Duke’s Energy Data Analytics PhD Student Fellows Program is funded by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. (Note: Conclusions reached or positions taken by researchers or other grantees represent the views of the grantees themselves and not those of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation or its trustees, officers, or staff.)

Register now to check out the 2018-2019 fellows’ final presentations and meet the new 2019-2020 fellows on May 17, 2019. Free lunch provided!

Originally posted on the Energy Initiative website

Energy Research Seed Fund Awards Six Grants for 2019-2020

Energy Research Seed Fund awards.

Research projects that will explore connections between energy and health, improve the performance of renewable energy sources such as solar and thermoelectricity, and expand energy access through innovative and clean methods will receive funding in 2019 from the Duke University Energy Initiative’s Energy Research Seed Fund.

The program will award six grants to projects involving 21 faculty members from five Duke schools, investing a total of $215,186 in promising new energy research.

In this—the sixth annual round of funding—the Energy Initiative awarded four seed grants for new interdisciplinary projects and two stage-two grants to support the next phase of promising projects that received prior seed funding from the Energy Initiative.

The first five rounds of funding from the Energy Research Seed Fund totaled $1,243,305. As of fall 2018, those rounds had generated more than three times their value in follow-on awards for Duke research.

“Cross-disciplinary collaboration at Duke has yielded potent opportunities for faculty to tackle significant energy challenges in innovative ways,” observed Energy Initiative director Brian Murray. “It’s so rewarding to support these efforts as they achieve the initial results that propel meaningful progress.”

The 2019 round of awards is co-funded by the Energy Initiative, the Office of the Provost, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, and the Pratt School of Engineering.

Seed Grants

Building an Experimentally Validated, Atomic-Level Model of Electrochemical Processes

Improving electrochemical processes in batteries, fuel cells, and chemical reactors is difficult since the models used to describe electrochemical phenomena lack experimental validation and are poorly understood at the atomic level. This project will launch a collaboration between an experimentalist and a theoretician to improve atomic-scale models of these electrochemical processes.
Grantees:
Benjamin Wiley: Chemistry, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences and Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, Pratt School of Engineering
Volker Blum: Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, Pratt School of Engineering and Chemistry, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Engineering Structural and Transport Properties of Quaternary Chalcogenide Semiconductors for High-Efficiency Thermoelectricity

Thermoelectric generators – devices that convert temperature differences directly into electrical energy – have traditionally relied on certain metal compounds for semiconductors. The investigators aim to develop economically viable, non-toxic alternative materials for use in future devices.
Grantees:
David Mitzi: Mechanical Engineering & Material Science, Pratt School of Engineering and Chemistry, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
Olivier Delaire: Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, Pratt School of Engineering and Physics, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Minimizing the Influence of Air Pollution on Solar Energy Production Globally: Framework Development to Save Billions of USD

Air pollution and dust collect on the surface of solar panels, reducing solar energy production by as much as 40% in some regions and accounting for the loss of tens of billions in US dollars annually. This project will develop tools to assess and minimize the impacts of air pollution on solar energy production.
Grantees:
Mike Bergin: Civil & Environmental Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering and Duke Global Health Institute
Drew Shindell: Nicholas School of the Environment and Duke Global Health Institute
Kyle Bradbury: Energy Initiative and Electrical & Computer Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering
David Carlson: Civil & Environmental Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering; Biostatistics & Bioinformatics, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; and Computer Science, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences)
Brian Murray: Nicholas School of the Environment and Energy Initiative
Mark Wiesner: Civil & Environmental Engineering, Pratt School of Engineering and Nicholas School of the Environment

Powering Health Care: Energy Access, Coping Costs, and Patient Outcomes in Ugandan Health Clinics

Electricity is critical for high-quality health care, but tens of thousands of health facilities globally lack access to reliable electricity, or sometimes to any electricity at all. The project team will undertake a comprehensive survey of 935 public health clinics throughout Uganda, assessing electricity access, reliability, affordability, and safety.
Grantees:
Robert Fetter: Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Tony Fuller: Department of Neurosurgery, School of Medicine and Duke Global Health Institute
Michael Haglund: Department of Neurosurgery, School of Medicine; Department of Neurobiology, School of Medicine; and Duke Global Health Institute
Marc Jeuland: Sanford School of Public Policy and Duke Global Health Institute
Jonathan Phillips: Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

Stage-Two Grants

Creating Super Absorbers for Solar Energy Capture and Conversion: Theoretical Design, Synthesis, and Characterization

The cost and efficiency of solar energy conversion depends on how effectively molecular structures harvest light. This project will build upon results obtained under a previous round of seed grant support to pursue discovery of new materials with much greater light absorption than current materials.
Grantees:
David Beratan: Chemistry, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; Biochemistry, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences; and Physics, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
Michael Therien: Chemistry, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

So the Dam Doesn’t Break: Understanding Sustainability of Microhydro Electric Grids in Nepal

This project will build on lessons garnered from a previous round of seed grant support to conduct a survey of microhydro plant sites in Nepal and better understand how competing ownership and governance approaches affect microhydro plants’ success.
Grantees:
Robyn Meeks: Sanford School of Public Policy and Energy Initiative
Dalia Patiño-Echeverri: Nicholas School for the Environment
Subhrendu K. Pattanayak: Sanford School of Public Policy; Duke Global Health Institute; Nicholas School for the Environment; and Economics, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences
Erik Wibbels: Political Science, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Originally posted on the Duke University Energy Initiative website

Can a Small Green Idea Provide Energy Access in Rural Nepal?

Graphic of mountains in Nepal.

As Subhrendu Pattanayak and a group of researchers from Duke University navigate narrow catwalks high into the Annapurna mountain range in the Himalayas, they begin to understand first-hand the difficulties of establishing any set infrastructure in such difficult terrain.

Gone are the paved roads of Pokhara, the Nepali city where they had begun their day, or even the narrow dirt roads that had carried them deep into the mountainside.

Ahead, the whir of engines in symphony with the rushing water of a nearby stream mark an end to their journey: a tiny structure containing within it a single turbine, waist high and six feet wide. Here lay the source of electricity for an entire community.

Eighty percent of the geography of Nepal is composed of mountain ranges like Annapurna, making the big power grids that we take for granted in the developed world an impossibility in much of Nepal. For most mountain communities, living off-grid is the only option.

But rather than fight against their geography, many of these communities have discovered a way to use the mountains to their advantage, harnessing the power of the fast-flowing mountain streams for power using a system called a micro-hydro minigrid.

For many communities, these systems not only provide power for basic necessities like lighting and cooking, but also are drivers of local economies.

In other villages however, these systems are far less effective. Many don’t produce enough electricity for the community, or sometimes none at all.

It is for this reason that the team of Duke researchers find themselves in the Himalayas: to find out why some work and some don’t, and to see if this small but beautiful alternative energy source may be a viable solution for providing electricity to off-grid communities not only in Nepal but around the world.

Robyn Meeks and Subhrendu Pattanayaak’s work is funded by the Duke University Energy Initiative’s Energy Research Seed Fund. Both researchers are also affiliated with the Duke Energy Access Project, an exciting initiative that takes an interdisciplinary approach to developing sustainable, modern energy solutions around the world.

For their work in Nepal, Robin and Subhrendu are collaborating with the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre, which is a part of the Government of Nepal in its Ministry of Energy, Water Resources, and Irrigation.

Originally posted on the Ways & Means website. Ways & Means is a podcast produced by Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy.