Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) Awards

April 27, 2009.

The White House today announced that the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science will invest $777 million in energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) over the next five years. In a major effort to accelerate the scientific breakthroughs needed to build a new 21st-century energy economy, 46 new multi-million-dollar EFRCs will be established at universities, national laboratories, non-profit organizations, and private firms across the nation.

Support in part by funds made available under President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the EFRCs will bring together groups of leading scientists to address fundamental issues in fields ranging from solar energy and electricity storage to materials sciences, biofuels, advanced nuclear systems, and carbon capture and sequestration.

The 46 EFRCs, which are to be funded at $2-5 million per year each for a planned initial five-year period, were selected from a pool of some 260 applications received in response to a solicitation issued in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science.

Over 110 institutions from 36 states plus the District of Columbia will be participating in the EFRC research. In all, the EFRCs will involve nearly 700 senior investigators and employ, on a full- or part-time basis, over 1,100 postdoctoral associates, graduate students, undergraduate students, and technical staff. Roughly a third of these researchers will be supported by Recovery Act funding.

Researchers at the EFRCs will take advantage of new capabilities in nanotechnology, high-intensity light sources, neutron scattering sources, supercomputing, and other advanced instrumentation- much of it developed and supported by the DOE Office of Science- in an effort to lay the scientific groundwork for fundamental advances in solar energy, biofuels, transportation, energy efficiency, electricity storage and transmission, clean coal and carbon capture and sequestration, and nuclear energy.

The 46 EFRC awards span the full range of energy research challenges described in the Basic Research Needs (BRN) series of workshop reports, while also addressing one or more of the science grand challenges described in the report, Directing Matter and Energy: Five Challenge for Science and the Imagination. Many of the EFRCs address multiple energy challenges that are linked by common scientific themes- such as interfacial chemistry for solar energy conversion and electrical energy storage or rational design of materials for multiple potential energy applications. The distribution of the EFRC awards by broad topic areas (with related BRN reports listed in parentheses) can be described as follows:

  • Renewable and Carbon-Neutral Energy (Solar Energy Utilization, Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems, Biofuels, Geological Sequestration of CO2); 20 EFRCs
  • Energy Efficiency (Clean and Efficient Combustion, Solid State Lighting, Superconductivity); 6 EFRCs
  • Energy Storage (Hydrogen Research, Electrical Energy Storage); 6 EFRCs
  • Crosscutting Science (Catalysis, Materials under Extreme Environments, other); 14 EFRCs


Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Function
Daniel Cosgrove, Director
Pennsylvania State University

Objective: To dramatically increase our fundamental knowledge of the physical structure of bio-polymers in plant cell walls to provide a basis for improved methods for converting biomass into fuels.

To achieve its objective, this EFRC will study the physical structure of lignocellulose at the nanoscale level and the rules and principles by which lignocellulose is created. An interdisciplinary team that includes plant and microbial molecular biologists, chemists, physicists, material scientists, engineers and computational modelers will utilize advanced, cutting-edge approaches and methodology to bring about desperately needed advances in the fundamental understanding of the “rules of assembly” of plant cell wall. Specifically, the focus will be placed on understanding the cellulose synthesis, lignocellulose assembly, and the relationship between nanoscale structure and macroscale properties such as porosity and mechanics of the plant cell wall. This EFRC has strong potential for transforming bioenergy and materials sciences through combined molecular, genetic, and nano-materials  engineering approaches and includes planned collaborations with scientists at North Carolina State University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

At North Carolina State University, Candace Haigler is P.I/P.D. with co-P.Is, Alexi Smirnov, Associate Professor of Chemistry, and Yaroslava Yingling, Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering.August 1 2009-July 31, 2014, NCSU budget: $2,810,316.00.


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