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February 17, 2020

AUSTIN, Texas — A team of researchers at The University of Texas at Austin is creating a new technology for the economic recovery of rare earth elements from coal ash and other waste streams so that manufacturers of sustainable energy technologies have a sufficient supply of raw materials. Across campus, another group is finding ways to eliminate blackouts by reducing power grid vulnerabilities during intense storm events, droughts, and wildfires. Over the next few decades, the world must transition to a sustainable future, while still providing the benefits to human well-being that come from affordable and reliable energy — and UT research will be a critical part of this transition.

These and nine other projects have won a campus-wide competition to identify and support the most promising global energy transition research at UT. The teams include 53 faculty members and researchers from nine schools across the university — from the Moody College of Communication and the Jackson School of Geosciences to the School of Architecture and the Cockrell School of Engineering. Interdisciplinary collaboration was a key criterion for award evaluation, and the selected teams reflect different approaches from departments and disciplines throughout the university. 

“These collaborations will unlock the unique ability of team-based projects to approach energy research at UT in unconventional and creative ways,” said Vice President for Research Dan Jaffe. “The range of topics underscores our researchers’ commitment to being responsive to global energy demand while reducing environmental impacts and leveraging groundbreaking technology. The remarkable quality and imaginativeness that the projects demonstrate shines a bright light on the amazing community of UT researchers in the energy domain.”

From developing the next generation of battery packs and new solar-powered water purification systems to designing and optimizing techniques for carbon capture, the 11 projects attack a broad range of key issues that are critical to a sustainable energy transition. 

“The most important thing we do at the Energy Institute is to provide UT researchers, whose expertise spans the entire spectrum of energy issues, with the funding and support necessary to advance their work and make new discoveries," said Varun Rai, director of the Energy Institute. "I’m thrilled to see this level of excitement for tackling some of the most difficult energy challenges that industry, policymakers, and communities face today.” 

This significant investment by the university will support the best of UT’s scholarship and translate it to real-world solutions that are urgently needed for making the global energy system more sustainable. 

Below is a full list of the selected projects and team members:

Assuring Long-term Storage of Captured CO2: Technical-Legal-Policy-Business Models

Business, policy and regulatory models for effective long-term storage of captured CO2, paired with meaningful community and communication outreach strategies.

Team Co-Leads: Susan Hovorka (Bureau of Economic Geology) and LeeAnn Kahlor (Moody College of Communication)

Other Team Members: Seyyed Hossieni and Sahar Bakhshian (Bureau of Economic Geology), Wen Song (Cockrell School of Engineering), David Spence (School of Law, McCombs School of Business), David Adelman (School of Law)

Defending the Electricity Infrastructure Against Extreme Weather Events, Now and in the Future

Comprehensive strategies, models and roadmaps for mitigation, preparedness and recovery to address extreme-weather power grid vulnerabilities.

Team Co-Leads: Erhan Kutanoglu and Surya Santoso (Cockrell School of Engineering)

Other Team Members: Zong-Liang Yang (Jackson School of Geosciences), John Hasenbein (Cockrell School of Engineering), Carey King (Energy Institute)

Decarbonizing the City – Financing and Policy Solutions for Transportation

Informing public policy by discovering lawmakers’ knowledge of and opinions about legislative opportunities available to facilitate the energy transition in transportation and to minimize the impacts of that transition on transportation funding. 

Team Co-Leads: Andrew Waxman (LBJ School of Public Affairs) and Gian-Claudia Sciara (School of Architecture)

Other Team Members: Bryan Jones, Jim Henson and Joshua Blank (College of Liberal Arts), Michael Walton (Cockrell School of Engineering)

Design of Next-Generation Battery Packs for a Sustainable Future

Accelerating the development of novel nanostructured composite foil (NCF) anodes for next-generation batteries through integrated atomistic to industrial scale research.

Team Co-Leads: Arumugam Manthiram and Venkat Subramanian (Cockrell School of Engineering)

Other Team Members: Kumar Muthuraman and Jeffrey Hales (McCombs School of Business), Gyeong Hwang (Cockrell School of Engineering

Driving Natural Gas Systems to Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Develop and host a Virtual Methane Challenge to design a low-cost methane monitoring, data analysis, and reporting network for a demonstration region in the Permian Basin.

Team Co-Leads: David Allen (Cockrell School of Engineering) and Paul Navratil (Texas Advanced Computing Center)

Other Team Members: Vincent Torres and David Sullivan (Cockrell School of Engineering)

Linking Plant Strategies to Complex Subsurface Hydrology to Predict Ecosystem Carbon Storage Across Texas

Leveraging evolutionary theory, large-scale data, and monitoring of the interplay of soil, water and nutrients to determine ecosystem carbon capture patterns and drought susceptibility.

Team Co-Leads: Caroline Farrior (College of Natural Sciences) and Daniella Rempe (Jackson School of Geosciences)

Other Team Members: Amelia Wolf and Tim Keitt (College of Natural Sciences), Ashley Matheny (Jackson School of Geosciences)

Enabling Solar-Powered Water Purification Technology

Designing solar water purifier technology with a novel class of hydrogels that offer record high evaporation rates under natural sunlight and improved practical applications.

Team Co-Leads: Guihua Yu and Lynn Katz (Cockrell School of Engineering)

Other Team Members: Keith Johnson and Kasey Faust (Cockrell School of Engineering), Sheila Olmstead (LBJ School of Public Affairs)

Sectoral Feasibility of Greenhouse Gas Mitigation and Clean Energy Transitions

Assessing the sectoral feasibility of greenhouse gas mitigation and clean energy transitions in three major economies: the United States, China, and India.

Team Co-Leads: Joshua Busby (LBJ School of Public Affairs) and Benjamin Leibowicz (Cockrell School of Engineering

Other Team Members: Sheila Olmstead (LBJ School of Public Affairs), David Adelman (School of Law), Kishore Gawande (McCombs School of Business)

Enabling the Sustainable Energy Transition: Economic Recovery of Rare Earth Elements

New, scalable technology to extract rare earth elements from coal ash and other waste streams, reducing environmental impact and costs.

Team Co-Leads: Wen Song and Thomas C. Underwood (Cockrell School of Engineering)

Other Team Members: Donald De Paolo and Laxminarayan Raja (Cockrell School of Engineering), Ashok Sekar (LBJ School of Public Affairs), Jay Banner (Jackson School of Geosciences)

Multi-Scale Design and Optimization of Next-Generation Carbon Capture Systems

Creating multi-scale design and optimization techniques for carbon capture processes based on ionic liquids.

Team Co-Leads: Joan Brennecke and Michael Baldea (Cockrell School of Engineering)

Other Team Members: Mark Stadtherr, Oscar Morales-Collazo and Ross Baldick (Cockrell School of Engineering)

Smart Decarbonization of the Built Environment in The Nexus of Climate Change, Population Growth and Technology Adoption

Developing a simulation framework for urban energy demand and intelligent energy management that incorporates climate change, urban form, and land-use planning.

Team Co-Leads: Juliana Felkner (School of Architecture) and Zoltan Nagy (Cockrell School of Engineering)

Other Team Members: Peter Stone (College of Natural Sciences), Ariane Beck (LBJ School of Public Affairs)


Anna Bell Gall

Energy Institute


Phone: (512) 475-6397