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UPR directs new renewable energy investigation center

By on September 10, 2018

SAN JUAN – The Río Piedras Campus of the University of Puerto Rico will direct a new center for the in-depth study of renewable energy through a $3.9 million Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) grant from the National Science Foundation.

The NSF’s Center for Interfacial Electrochemistry of Energy Materials, which began in August, is a partnership among three institutions in Puerto Rico and the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source at Cornell University (CHESS). The University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, Universidad Metropolitana (UMET) and Universidad del Turabo will perform interfacial electrochemical studies of energy materials at the CHESS synchrotron X-ray source that could help energy production. The effort will train students through PREM framework elements, such as workshops and hands-on activities at CHESS.

The NSF PREM Pathway is a process that encourages a diverse cohort of young scientists and engineers to stay in materials research through graduation to pursue higher education and careers in the field.
(The National Science Foundation)

“The National Science Foundation of the United States found that the proposal in collaboration with CHESS, a facility sponsored by NSF, had all the merits to develop cutting-edge research and develop the next scientists who could work in synchrotron energy centers. There are few Hispanic and Puerto Rican scientists who know about this cutting-edge technology,” the center’s director, natural sciences Prof. Carlos Cabrera, said.

The synchrotron is a circular particle accelerator. At close to the speed of light, electrons race within a circumference of a mile. When a fast-enough moving electron changes direction, it emits energy at X-ray wavelength, which is used to study materials to be used in renewable energy.

With the six-year grant, students will develop research projects to study the chemical and electrochemical processes that occur during the production and storage of energy.

Cabrera explained that the objective is to study photovoltaic cell systems, fuel cells and energy storage to “acquire fundamental knowledge to understand how these materials behave while producing energy” and help “improve and discover systems that optimize the production of energy from renewable sources.”

The initiative will also have an educational component that will impact both graduate and undergraduate students using various educational strategies that include the formation of new courses, workshops, internships and training for the development of new technologies. In addition, the center will train high school teachers in advanced techniques of characterization of materials with the aim of increasing the interest of young people in this field of science.

The center, which is also run by Dr. Joel D. Brock of CHESS, will include the participation of faculty of the Rio Piedras campus such as Dr. Vilmalí López-Mejías, Dr. Jorge L. Colón and Dr. Ratkanar Palai . Participating from UMET are Dr. Lymari Fuentes-Claudio and Dr. Mitk’E Santiago; as well as Dr. Lisandro Cunci from Universidad del Turabo.

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