Although each research area addresses a different aspect of innovative energy development, all are designed to consider the entire supply chain and lifecycle impacts, to ensure the final products contribute to an economically and ecologically sustainable energy future.
The EBI is keenly focused on addressing fundamental questions about materials and devices used for electrochemical energy storage. Our Advanced Energy Storage (AES) research has the potential to redefine the present understanding of electron storage and charge carrier transport processes within conductive media and electrode materials, as well as at the boundaries between these phases.
Biological processes integrated with chemistry and engineering processes can yield game-changing technologies that produce high quality sustainable energy on a large scale. The EBI partners are harnessing and manipulating microbial and plant biochemical pathways to produce fuels, their intermediate products, and materials. The EBI is uniquely qualified for this work, and draw upon one-of-a-kind bioenergy research farm at the University of Illinois, access to the state-of-the-art fermentation plants at Illinois’ Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory (IBRL) and Berkeley’s Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit (ABPDU), and our exceptional biological engineering, plant biology, and microbiology faculty.
To quickly discover optimal materials and chemistries for a sustainable energy research technology portfolio, the EBI and its partners use computational tools (including machine learning) and develop new computational approaches and techniques. The tools developed under this program can be applied to all EBI research, and therefore can help to address a host of fundamental energy transition questions.
Technological advances in photovoltaics have reduced the cost of solar energy, greatly expanding its role in electricity production. The EBI’s research is moving beyond that application to examine solar driven synthesis of dense energy carriers. This area’s studies include projects that can transform solar electricity into stable, energy-rich liquid or solid fuels, ideally using carbon dioxide or other freely available chemicals as building blocks.
Twenty-first century paradigms of technological development demand cradle-to-grave analyses, to ensure current designs overcome past missteps, before production. Technoeconomic analysis combines engineering design and modeling expertise with financial analysis to envision the scale-up of a technology not yet commercialized. This analysis can determine how a given technology will operate within the natural resource and infrastructure constraints of selected location(s), and estimate the potential production costs at commercial scale, relative to competing alternatives. To complement those assessments, societal impact analyses help to determine the effect of a new technology on human and environmental well-being. These analyses consider local, regional, national, international, and geopolitical impacts, including economic, environmental, and health issues resulting from implementation of a new technology. In its holistic project overview, the EBI decisions regarding practical implementation of a developing technology or process are informed by the technoeconomic and societal analyses.
The global cost of corrosion due to prevention, inspection, maintenance, repair, and lost revenues is estimated to be approximately $1 trillion annually. This is particularly acute in the energy industry, where metal corrosion and fatigue results in facility shutdown, pipeline failure, and environmental disaster. Inadvertent microbial activity is often at the heart of this detrimental process, either deep in the rock matrices of oil reservoirs, or locally in the pipelines, pumps, and holding tanks of the surface facilities. At the EBI we are working to develop a fundamental understanding of microbially induced corrosion by investigating the microbes and mechanisms associated with it. Using the latest techniques, we are developing a conceptual understanding of the processes, and identifying new and effective ways of controlling them.
The EBI’s collaborative partnerships are developing methods to covert methane to high-value, large-volume products, such as drop-in liquid fuels or commodity chemicals. These projects harness the recent breakthroughs in electrochemistry, nanomaterials, catalysts, computational sciences, and synthetic biology—utilized with cost-effective electron sources such as photovoltaics—to develop new approaches for methane conversion. Methane is readily produced from sustainable natural resources, such as domestic waste, so in the pursuit of carbon neutrality it represents an ideal transition molecule as we move from a world dependent on natural gas resources to a fossil-free future.
The EBI and its earliest sponsors established the largest bioenergy research farm at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which is aimed at modernizing biomass production systems in anticipation of their eminent deployment.
Waste streams range from power plant cooling systems to those from the production and use of modern batteries. The EBI research strives to focus on those and everything in between. For example, to meet discharge requirements that preserve the quality of the receiving water bodies, EBI scientists and faculty are developing cost-effective and reliable biological and chemical processes aimed at capture, conversion, and recovery of waste materials to enhance recyclability, reduce resource burden, and lighten the environmental footprint of new energy related technologies.