Nexus Seed Grants for Proposal Development

Mines and NREL formally launched the NEXUS partnership in July 2019 to strengthen and expand collaboration between our two institutions.  The goal is to develop joint research initiatives and funding beyond the scope of either institution alone.

Nexus Seed Funding Grants are a new and innovative way to support Mines and NREL researchers in jump-starting ideation on cutting edge collaborative, interdisciplinary research proposals and eventual funding of new joint projects..  The Mines/NREL Nexus partnership launched two seed funding rounds in the Summer 2020 to support collaborative Mines/NREL proposal development. The seed funding is intended to support the efforts of the Mines and NREL PIs, with awards ranging from $10-15,000 each.

The Mines/NREL Nexus reviewer panel recommended 8 proposals from 24 excellent submissions. We saw many strong proposals from this community, as well as the projects they are conducting with colleagues at NREL. For more information about these projects, read on!

Green Manufacturing of Metal Sulfides and Derived Products

Colin Wolden, Mines and Samantha Reese, NREL

The Nexus seed grant will allow us to couple disciplinary expertise from Mines with the unique capabilities of the Clean Energy Manufacturing Analysis Center at NREL, enabling us to respond to proposal opportunities that require both technical innovation and a sophisticated understanding of the techno-economic benefits. In particular, we plan to target advanced manufacturing solicitations from DOE and NSF related to metal sulfide production for use in next generation batteries, optoelectronics, and catalysts.


Green Manufacturing image

Modeling Framework for Optimizing Next Generation Building Envelopes for Grid

Paulo Cesar Tabares-Velasco, Mines and Marcus Bianchi, NREL

The seed funding will allow Mines and NREL engineers to write an NSF proposal on future dynamic materials that will ultimately change the way buildings interact with the grid. It will combine materials and building science with optimization techniques that will guide new development of building materials and systems that will ultimately allow the building envelope to store and release thermal energy when needed, reducing the need for heating and cooling systems.  This will allow NREL/Mines engineers to combine efforts on this NSF proposal and develop the idea together as well as find ways to more effectively communicate potential savings and identify potential projects between NREL and Mines on this field.

Simplified and Inexpensive Integration of Concentrated-Solar Power for Desalination of Concentrated Brines

Tzahi Cath, Mines and Ariel Miara, NREL

Desalination of impaired water is energy intensive compared to treatment of fresh water; therefore, coupling renewable energy, and especially solar energy, with desalination is logical and desirable. Current conveyance of heat from solar collectors to desalination processes is complex and material- and cost-intensive. Our project focuses on developing simple, inexpensive, and thermally efficient methods to convey heat to thermal membrane desalination processes for treatment of highly concentrated brines.

For the last few years Mines and NREL have been collaborating on integration of renewable energy (solar, wind, ocean waves) with desalination processes. With the establishment of the new DOE-funded Desalination Hub (NAWI), in which both NREL and Mines are members, the Nexus award will assist with developing new avenues for collaborations supported by other funding agencies.

We will use the seed funding to help support graduate and undergraduate students in developing research in response to several calls for proposals (BOR, DOE, DOD). Students will develop critical writing and research skills.

Spin-based Electronics with Chiral 2-Dimensional Tin Iodide Perovskites

Meenakshi Singh, Mines and Matt Beard, NREL

Our project combines the strength of NREL in materials growth and characterization with the growing focus on quantum devices at Mines. The complementary strengths of our teams provide opportunities for growth in unexplored areas, both fundamental and applied.

Development of Characterization Methods to Understand and Mitigate Performance Degradation in Czochralski Silicon

Sumit Agarwal, Mines and Pauls Stradins, NREL

As the cost of manufacturing silicon solar panels plummets and their efficiency rises, the field reliability of the panels becomes an increasingly important focus of research. This project proposal will bring together expertise at Mines and NREL in advanced characterization of silicon to understand the performance degradation mechanisms at the atomistic level. Our partnership will essentially introduce new characterization methods to understand performance degradation in silicon solar cells, and help develop mitigation strategies.”

Projects of this scale require a lot of planning in terms of putting together the best team, analyzing preliminary data, and writing the final high-quality document. With the Nexus seed funding we will be able to provide the necessary support to the faculty and staff scientists to put together a strong competitive proposal.

Developing a methodology for estimating probability of success for geothermal wells in frontier plays (greenfields)

Alexei Milkov, Mines and Greg Rhodes & Ian Warren, NREL

The Nexus seed grant will allow us to jump-start a new collaboration between Mines and NREL and adopt methods of risk assessment from oil & gas exploration to geothermal energy exploration to reduce reliance on non-renewable energy sources. We propose to develop a new method to assess probability of success of geothermal wells based on the geological data and subsurface models. This method will be used to help make decisions about the type of energy (fossil, geothermal, or others) appropriate for remote government facilities. We plan to respond to solicitations from DOD and DOE related to the exploration of geothermal energy.

Geothermal Drilling

DRL4REA: Deep Reinforcement Learning for Renewable Energy Applications

Mahadevan Ganesh, Mines and Marc T. Henry de Frahan, NREL

This project brings together domain scientists and algorithm developers to tackle unique challenges posed by renewable energy applications, namely the dynamic control of complex stochastic systems by augmenting the latest techniques in artificial intelligence through the use of Bayesian methods. This new collaboration between NREL and Mines will leverage expertise from both institutions and foster increased capabilities to support the NREL and Mines mission space. The Mines/NREL Nexus Seed Grant will be invaluable to develop nascent ideas for coupling Bayesian methodologies to deep reinforcement learning for controlling renewable energy systems under uncertainty. We will develop and implement a new generation of data-driven decision-support suite of predictive algorithms for controlling systems under uncertainty, based on a novel hierarchical DRL (HDRL) framework, with real-world testing and applications.

Geothermal Drilling

Recycling of carbon-sequestering char to synergistically enhance the life of concrete

Lori Tunstall, Mines and M. Brennan Pecha, NREL

We believe this technology has the potential to simultaneously address multiple problems by strengthening concrete, sequestering carbon, and enhancing the life-cycle of carbonaceous waste. This project combines two of the biggest strengths in our institutions: materials science at Mines and renewable energy technologies at NREL. Although it looks small, we are sure this grant will greatly accelerate the development of a fantastic proposal to fund the development of a multi-year project with a large scope.

Geothermal Drilling