University of Minnesota
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New $12 million grant focuses on energy research

The Department of Chemistry has been awarded a $12 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to lead an Energy Frontier Research Center aimed at accelerating scientific breakthroughs in energy research. The University of Minnesota’s center is one of only 32 innovative energy research projects nationwide chosen from a highly competitive field of 200 proposals.

“We are mobilizing some of our most talented scientists to join forces and pursue the discoveries and breakthroughs that will lay the foundation for our nation’s energy future,” said U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz at the nationwide announcement.

The University’s new Inorganometallic Catalyst Design Center, headed by Professor Laura Gagliardi, will receive $3 million each year for the next four years. The center will focus on the discovery of a new class of energy-science-relevant catalytic materials for energy- and atom-efficient conversion of shale-gas components.

“Our research could lead to new opportunities for energy efficiency and resource conservation,” Gagliardi said. “Our ultimate goal is to design and produce catalysts for reactions that will yield significant energy savings and environmental benefits compared to existing alternatives. A more immediate outcome of the research will be what we learn about structure-function relationships for new catalysts in a size range spanning the nano- and meso-scales.”

Gagliardi is known as one of the top theoretical chemists in the world for her research on developing theories that help scientists understand the fundamental behavior of matter. Her work has led to paradigm-shifting improvements in the understanding of complex inorganic systems and their properties. She uses these theories to model chemical processes relevant to the energy needs of modern society. For example, Gagliardi designs new materials to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and new processes to recycle spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power reactors.

“We are thrilled that Professor Gagliardi, an outstanding faculty member in the Department of Chemistry, will be directing this exciting new center,” said William Tolman, chair of the Department of Chemistry. “This center addresses catalyst discovery in a new way, further establishing the University of Minnesota as a hub for cutting-edge collaborative chemistry research.”

In addition to Gagliardi who will serve as director, five other professors from the Department of Chemistry will be involved in the center, including Christopher Cramer, Connie Lu, Lee Penn, Andreas Stein, and Donald Truhlar. These faculty are all leaders in theoretical chemistry and inorganic chemistry—two fields in which the University of Minnesota excels.

Other partners involved in the Inorganometallic Catalyst Design Center include the Northwestern University, University of Washington, University of California, Davis, Clemson University, Argonne National Laboratory, Northwest National Laboratory, and Dow Chemical.