Nexus Seed Grant Program

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

The Nexus Seed Funding Grant program, started in 2020, aims to stimulate new research initiatives and connections across the two institutions, featuring faculty and researchers from Mines and NREL. It has been successful in supporting Mines and NREL researchers to jump-start ideation on innovative, collaborative, interdisciplinary research proposals and prospective funding (e.g., from DOE, DOD, or other sources). 

Nexus seed grants support innovative Mines and NREL researchers jump-start their collaborations into cutting edge interdisciplinary research proposals.

The seed funding helps new Mines and NREL teams build a cohesive proposal that can then be submitted to calls for a range of funded projects.

Since its launch in 2020, the Mines/NREL Nexus continues to expand on the program. 


nexus-logo_rgb_digital_600wide Mines/NREL Nexus Seed Grants

Seed Grant Projects

Congratulations to our 2024 seed grant winners!

Questions on our seed grant projects? Contact

NREL-campus-scaled Mines/NREL Nexus Seed Grants

NREL campus looking west towards Mines campus

Summer 2024 Seed Grant Projects


Sagi Zisman (NREL), Data Scientist-Computational Scientist and Dr. Gabe Fierro (Mines), Assistant Professor of Computer Science

Semiconductor manufacturing is a complex process and requires massive investments. Recently, the CHIPS and Science Act was passed to ’bolster U.S. leadership in Semiconductors’ with a $52.7 Billion investment including $500 Million for semiconductor supply chains [3]. Specifically, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has launched the CHIPS for America program with a few key focal areas [1]. First with a focus on manufacturing digital twins as part of its vision for the CHIPS Manufacturing USA Institute [2]. Secondly, novel metrology techniques for performance and quality assessments of future chips. Thirdly, strengthening the semiconductor supply chain. Just on the supply chain side, from novel architectures, Very Large Scale Integrated (VLSI) design, and analog/digital circuit modeling tools to source materials, fabrication, packaging and distribution, the supply chain of getting a chip or module out to a customer is among the most sophisticated industrial feats humanity has performed. For success in all the above areas, information, knowledge and data management will be critical and indeed is a precondition for effective solutions.

Our proposal and vision are to focus on research and development of novel knowledge and data management tools that are in direct support of the CHIPS effort but that are ultimately transferable to various domains. Of particular importance to NREL are innovations in Photovoltaic (PV) semiconductors and modules. NREL is increasingly being funded for supply-chain work and given the inherently entity-relational nature of supply chains, knowledge graphs (KGs) are perfect solutions. KGs are graph data structures that encode relationships between interacting entities. Typically, the graph schema is specified as an ontology, or meta graph that describes concepts in the world. What will knowledge graphs enable? These types of questions are being asked constantly in the industry. To answer this question, a multi-hop information nightmare ensues, perhaps requiring merging industry relational databases, internet searches and text-based report synthesis. A query-able KG that links this information will significantly reduce the information friction. Given that supply-chain data contains vast information linking business, geographical, and domain-science, developing a KG is a complex task. To ease the burden, we aim to develop tools for automating the construction of single-source-of-truth KGs. Our vision is to combine state-of-the-art multimodal Large Language Models (LLMs) in a human-LLM interaction loop for the seamless creation and maintenance of large interdisciplinary KGs.



Joseph Simon (NREL), Researcher V – Systems Engineering and Dr. Sid Saleh (Mines), Associate Professor of Engineering, Design and Society

The role of challenges and competitions to spur innovation, technology commercialization, an impactful energy transition, and a qualified workforce has been well-understood and valued for years. At NREL, the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis (JISEA) center manages dozens of prize competitions for the U.S. Department of Energy, connecting thousands of innovators with millions of dollars of non-dilutive federal funding that can advance the market in meaningful ways. At Mines, the McNeil Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation leads efforts to enable students to master the art and science of bringing ideas to life through competing in challenges sponsored by industry partners. Through the America COMPETES act and through extensive private investment, prizes and challenges have been identified as a meaningful way to move the market forward.

NREL & Mines are leaders of how to ensure that the innovation required to achieve a rapid clean energy transition is informed, but not limited by, artificial intelligence systems integrated into competitions and prizes that are fair, effective, and impactful. We will secure new funding to build our community of practice for effective integration of AI into challenges and prizes, informing many federal agencies, state agencies, incubators, accelerators, foundations, and associations who depend on ideas from innovators to advance the state-of-the art. Additionally, the potential benefits of AI applications for prizes should be explored. LLMs can encourage innovators to utilize broader customer research and business model development to directly address pressing societal needs.



Dr. Qi Han, (Mines) Professor of Computer Science, Dr. Qichao Wang (NREL) Computational Transportation Scientist and Dr. Stanley Young (NREL) Advanced Transportation and Urban Scientist

The field of intelligent transportation systems (ITS) has long emphasized the use of advanced sensors to detect and react to a dynamic roadway environment. Although ITS technology has advanced significantly, even to the point of synthesizing optimal trajectories for vehicle paths, communicating the appropriate speed and path to the human driver remains problematic. Changeable message signs or variable speed limit signs provide directives to the human driver, but require drivers’ attentiveness for effectiveness, and limit direction to all drivers, not specific instructions to a specific vehicle/driver. Other attempts communicate directives through an in-vehicle interface, such as a display showing appropriate speed to arrive at a traffic signal during the green phase, or smartphone maps for navigating. The latter two require diversion of attention away from the physical environment to receive the directive of the cyber-physical system, which in turn creates an additional safety hazard. This Nexus proposal seeks to push ITS to the next level by using Augmented Reality (AR) to assist driving in complicated real-world environments. The AR enabled system will enhance a human’s ability to appropriately react to the dynamic physical environment, whether to avoid a potentially hazardous events (a vehicle failing to yield to a traffic light), or to appropriately govern the speed of the vehicle to seamlessly merge into traffic, or approach a traffic signal such that the arrival is synchronized with the onset of the green phase. Indeed, without AR, ITS technologies (i.e., active management of roadway traffic) will reach (and in many ways has already reached) fundamental limits of effectiveness. 

With AR, the system may provide humans with enhanced perception of the roadway environment (seeing around corners, knowing signal timing, coordinating movements with other vehicles) to gain significant efficiency and safety benefits. Such interactions could safely extend the driving abilities as people age, providing freedom and security of movement later in life as well as providing greater safety for vulnerable road users. Similarly, it could augment the perception of beginning drivers, helping to minimize driver perception errors typical of new drivers (such as clearance gaps).



Dr. Qiuhua Huang (Mines), Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Dr. Yuqi Zhou (NREL) Postdoctoral Researcher-Electrical Engineering, Power Systems Engineering

The rising number of natural disasters in recent years has consistently challenged the safe and reliable operations of power grids. Unlike transmission systems, which are interconnected in a robust, meshed network, the distribution systems (including microgrids) that directly supply power to residential customers are more vulnerable to system contingencies. As these residential loads are typically connected in a radial network topology, they are often at a greater risk of experiencing community-wide power outages and disruptions under overload conditions, equipment failures or severe weather events.

With the evolution of smart grid systems and advanced control technologies, the concept of connected communities becomes possible. The integrated networked system consists of multiple layers including power systems, transportation networks, and building management systems. The interconnectivity within the networked communities can facilitate resource sharing and improve grid resilience against grid emergency events. As electric vehicles, battery storage systems, renewables, and controllable loads become more widespread, effective coordination of these distributed energy resources is crucial for enhancing energy efficiency and attaining net-zero emissions. We plan to leverage our prior works and strengths, and develop emission-aware, resilient hierarchical control and optimization strategies for these connected communities while considering differential energy flexibility and social vulnerability within each community.



Dr. Xiaoli Zhang (Mines) Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Dr. Guandong Zhu (NREL) Senior Researcher and Group Manager, Center for Energy Conversion and Storage Systems

The topic of this university – national laboratory -industry collaborative proposal is “Scalable and Reliable Autonomous In-Field Heliostats Installation” with the objective to facilitate autonomous assembly and canting adjustments of commercial multi-facet heliostats directly in the field. This aims to minimize reliance on human labor while enhancing the precision of heliostats. The autonomous installation actions will be achieved through a mobile, multirobot system that cooperatively interacts with specially designed heliostats for safe and easy robot manipulations across the entire concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) power plant. 

Installing heliostats and maintaining their accuracy consistently requires heavy human involvement. Although previous research has achieved measurement automation for CSP, such as Figure 1 Task overview of the autonomous in-field CSP installation Zhang, Xiaoli – #221 3 of 10 3 using unmanned aerial vehicles for sensing in NIO1 and UFACET2 developed at NREL, the heliostat installation process, including facet mounting and fine canting adjustment, still mostly rely on manual efforts. While robotics technologies have reached a state of readiness for elements of autonomous in-field installation, the unresolved issues of adopting and scaling up robotics installation with corresponding heliostat modification, optimizing robotic installation efficiency and maximizing power output are still open challenges. While robotics technologies have reached a state of readiness for elements of autonomous for in-field installation, there still exist several unaddressed challenges that prevent successful deployments of autonomous systems. These challenges include adopting and scaling up robotics installation with corresponding heliostat modification, optimizing robotic installation efficiency and maximizing power output. Addressing these challenges can help advance the automation capabilities for in-field installation and canting adjustment, which can ultimately reduce the construction cost to the target of $50/m2 by reducing the need for human labor. Further researching and understanding in the following aspects needs to be acquired in search for solutions for current challenges: 1) How to modify current heliostat structure to be manipulable by robots during installation and canting/recanting, 2) What features, such as robot’s configuration, resolution, lifting capability and control logics, are desired to autonomously install and calibrate heliostats, and 3) Understand the correlation between modification, cost, and power production for optimal power plant design.



Dr. Yamuna Phal (Mines) Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Dr. Lydia Meyer (NREL) Postdoctoral Researcher, Electrochemical Energy Storage Group

Sodium-ion batteries (Na-ion or SIBs) are emerging as promising alternatives to traditional lithium-ion batteries, offering scalable, cost-effective energy storage solutions. The recent significant funding opportunity announcement (FOA) from the DOE Vehicles Technologies Office (VTO) focusing on Na-ion battery technologies emphasizes the critical importance of innovation in this field. However, realizing the full potential of SIBs requires addressing key challenges, particularly regarding the role of the solid electrolyte interphase (SEI), and its contributions to cell performance and longevity. Spatially resolved chemical information of the SEI holds immense significance in elucidating the intricate mechanisms governing SIB performance and degradation. Traditionally, Fourier transform (FT)-IR-based spectrometers have been employed, but they suffer from limited spatial resolution, low signal-to-noise ratio and hence long acquisition times. The proposed concept of quantum cascade laser (QCL)-based infrared (IR) microscopy platform for monitoring the SEI aims to bridge this technological gap, offering scalable, real-time insights into SEI dynamics crucial for enhancing SIB performance and manufacturability. By utilizing IR microscopy to map the SEI, we aim to understand the nuanced effects of various candidate electrolytes on SEI formation dynamics, thus fostering the development of next-generation hard carbon anodes for SIBs with enhanced cyclic performance and cell stability.

Summer 2023 Seed Grant Projects

Machine Learning-Informed Analysis of Remote Sensing Data to Identify Favorable Areas for Enhanced Geothermal Systems

Nicole Taverna (National Renewable Energy Lab), Researcher III-Data Science and H. Sebnem Duzgun (Colorado School of Mines), Professor of Mining Engineering

Geothermal resources can deliver a steady, continuous flow of heat from the Earth’s core that can be converted into energy. Geothermal energy increases the viability of a clean grid by offering a reliable foundation for delivering renewable energy. Finding the appropriate locations and workable resources, including possible sites for enhanced geothermal systems (EGS), is the key to advancement of geothermal energy. The high level of uncertainty that accompanies the subsurface resource is one of the primary obstacles to EGS development.

The use of multimodal geological, geophysical, and geochemical data can be beneficial in identifying indicators of EGS. This proposal presents a novel method for determining optimal deployment sites for EGS. By combining machine learning, remote sensing, AI, and additional exploration data (e.g., geology, geophysics, geochemistry), we hope to generate comprehensive resource maps of potential geothermal resources.


Flash activation of conductive oxide materials for low-temperature oxygen evolving anodes

Megan Holtz (Colorado School of Mines), Assistant Professor of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, and Elliot Padgett (National Renewable Energy Lab), Researcher III-Chemistry, Hydrogen and Fuel Cells

Oxygen-evolving anodes are a critical component for several clean energy technologies including water electrolysis for hydrogen production and CO2 reduction for carbon-neutral fuel and chemical synthesis. Proton exchange membrane (PEM)-based devices present several important advantages, critical to achieving the Hydrogen Earthshot. However, very few materials are suitable for the acidic, oxidizing conditions present in their oxygen-evolving anodes. To enable clean hydrogen production at scale, we must lower the costs of PEME by lowering use of iridium and using thinner membranes to improve device conductivity. The recent demonstration of conductivity induced in otherwise insulating ceramics by flash processing may create a new route to prepare transformative anode materials for PEME. Flash activation uses high voltage pulsing to alter the properties of ceramic materials. This project would lay the groundwork to understand the prospects for flash-activated ceramics to revolutionize OER anodes.


 Infrastructure Perception and Control (IPC): Creating Real-Time Digital Twin of Traffic to Create Safe and Reliable Intersections

Michael Wakin (Colorado School of Mines), Professor of Chemistry and Geochemistry and Rimple Sandhu (National Renewable Energy Lab), Staff Researcher, Computational Sciences

Over the last decade, the advances in connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) have far surpassed the technological realm of transportation infrastructure. There is a growing need to have a technologically commensurate transportation infrastructure to enable safe and reliable movement of goods and people. This need is perhaps felt most at traffic intersections, as more than 50 percent of the combined total of fatal and injury crashes occur at or near intersections. 

The proposed concept of this project is aimed at bridging this technological gap by building a real-time digital twin of traffic by fusing detections from sensors installed at the intersection. This digital twin can then empower a wide variety of applications such as smart traffic signals or infrastructure-to-everything (I2X) communications. The state-space techniques of Bayesian filtering provide a robust mathematical apparatus to facilitate the handling of multiple data points about the same object, while respecting associated uncertainties and heterogenous data structure. However, this technology has remained rather elusive in the field of static transportation infrastructure due to the over-reliance on OEMs. 

With this proposal, NREL and Mines aim to deploy and advance the field of Bayesian filtering to design, test and validate a robust sensor fusion framework that is sensor-agnostic, OEM-agnostic, scalable, reliable, and provides a trustable digital twin of traffic at the given intersection.


Development of Biomass Waste Electrocatalysts for Localized Green H2 Generation and Sustainable Hydrocarbon Chemistry

Nicholas Bedford (Colorado School of Mines) Research Professor of Chemistry, Alan Sellinger (Colorado School of Mines) Professor of Chemistry, Jack Ferrell (National Renewable Energy Lab) Research Engineer, Carbon Utilization and Susan Habas (National Renewable Energy Lab) Bioenergy Science and Technology

The need for hydrolysis technology to operate on versatile aqueous water sources is becoming an ever-pressing societal demand given the need for localized production of clean-burning fuels coupled with a lack of pure water in many areas across the globe. While seawater is an obvious candidate of choice as an inherently available feedstock for electrolysis, the direct use of seawater often leads to issues with undesirable reaction chemistry. Wastewater from the food and beverage industry is one possible alternative to seawater, as it often consists of low concentration of potentially parasitic cations and anions yet is often of sufficient conductivity for possible direct implementation. If food/beverage wastewater could be successfully implemented into an electrolyzer, this technology could indirectly couple as a possible means to upcycle waste into local green H2 while providing a means for lower local waste footprints. This project will develop a range of proposals focused on designing catalyst and electrolyzers that operate on feedstocks from food and beverage waste. Our proposed efforts will focus on both the fundamental science of engineering hydrocarbon electrooxidation catalysis and their eventual scale up and deployment in a prototype electrolyzer.


Energy-neutral green infrastructure for treatment of pathogens in urban drool and dry weather flows

John McCray (Colorado School of Mines), Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Scott Struck (National Renewable Energy Lab), Water Systems Research Engineer

Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act authorizes the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) to assist states, territories, and authorized tribes in listing impaired surface waters. According to EPA estimates, pathogens are the leading cause of impairment for listed impaired waters. Pathogen impairments can impact people’s health, hurt the economy, and reduce opportunities for recreation. Health-care costs attributed to some of the leading causes of waterborne pathogens in the United States are estimated at more than $1 billion annually. Additionally, water impaired by pathogens is harder to treat for potable use. Recent surveys of impaired waters have identified over 10,500 named waterways as impaired by pathogens equating to about 42% of the assessed US rivers and streams. Together with land-based pollutant sources, urban drainage provides a major conduit transporting pollutants into receiving waterbodies. Stormwater management infrastructure is the primary tool used for urban runoff management and is considered by the US EPA as the “best available treatment technology” for managing pollutants. This proposal is to develop a competitively funded proposal submission that would incorporate a novel approach to apply green stormwater management infrastructure as pre-treatment prior to low power ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (LP-UVGI) resulting in stormwater pathogen reductions in urban dry-weather flows.


Novel methods for deconstructing plastics and sustainable plastic waste management

Amy Landis (Colorado School of Mines) Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Alberta Carpenter (National Renewable Energy Lab) Integrated Modeling & Economic Analysis Scientist

It is difficult to imagine a world without plastics; look around you, they’re everywhere. Plastic has made its way into surprising places. Plastic wastes, both on the macro and micro scale, are contaminating oceans at an alarming rate, affecting marine life and our food supply. Different types of plastic waste hotspots are present all over the world and micro plastics have been found nearly everywhere, in our food, in our bodies, in our water supply. The effects of these micro plastics on human health and on ecosystem health are not fully known. In addition to pollution, plastic waste also presents a vast amount of lost resources. As fossil fuels become increasingly expensive and in short supply, when plastic waste ends up in landfills or in the environment, we lose those valuable raw material resources. Recycling of plastics is not cost-effective; over 80% of the 7 billion tons of plastic produced have accumulated as waste in the environment and 98% of new plastics are made from virgin feedstock.

 We must have a clearer understanding of the scale and scope of plastics in conjunction with their environmental impacts. Data on micro and nano plastics flows to the environment is sparse. And most approaches to macro-plastics in the environment focus on policy and social media efforts. 

This project will develop proposal teams that will improve our understanding of the fate, transport, and environmental/human health impacts of nano, micro, and macro plastics in the environment. Ultimately, we aim to evaluate engineered solutions to both minimize plastic waste at the source and improve recovery of plastics.


Understanding the Sociotechnical Ecosystems of Energy Technology Research, Development, Demonstration, and Deployment

Katie Johnson (Colorado School of Mines), Professor of Electrical Engineering and Elizabeth Gill (National Renewable Energy Lab), Research Engineer, Wind Energy

We will develop a framework to measure how sociotechnical factors inform and are impacted by energy technology research, development, demonstration, and deployment (RDD&D) to enhance the impact of our institutions in creating a more just, resilient, and sustainable future and increase institutional competitiveness in funding opportunities, which place increasing value on the sociotechnical ecosystem in which technical RDD&D takes place. Our team is uniquely positioned to conduct research to understand and improve how sociotechnical ecosystem elements intertwine with emerging renewable energy technologies and related aspects (e.g., critical materials in these systems). 

Building the necessary frameworks and tools requires both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies and expertise across a range of disciplines and research areas, as captured in our team: sociotechnical engineering, macro-ethics, responsible research and innovation, social justice, wind energy technologies, materials development and characterization, stakeholder engagement, engineering design, and more. 

We will characterize the need to incorporate sociotechnical factors early in research, starting at the problem definition stage; build methodologies and guidance for integrating such considerations; and propose plans to assess the impacts and effectiveness of these methods. We consider three interconnected areas: sociotechnical integration, impact assessment, and extrapolation of measurements to predict longer-term success.


Summer 2022 Seed Projects

Reservoir dead pool in the western United States:  probability and consequences of a novel extreme event 

PIs: Adrienne Marshall (Geology and Geological Engineering, Mines) and Stuart Cohen (Model Engineering, NREL)

In 2021, 645 MW of power from Oroville Dam were unavailable to the electric grid for 5 months due to drought conditions that resulted in “dead pool” – the condition at which reservoir elevations are too low to produce power. In a warming climate, what is the probability in a given year that large
quantities of power production capacity in the western U.S. go offline due to dead pool?

The answer to this question could have significant consequences for a decarbonizing grid, as hydropower is a low emissions firm energy source that provides ancillary load-balancing services, allowing for increased penetration of variable generation renewables. These impacts could be particularly consequential if other climatic impacts, such as heatwaves, increase electricity demand. The proposed study will evaluate the probability and consequences of widespread dead pool conditions in the western U.S. and disseminate novel, policy-relevant research results through peer-reviewed journal publications and to water resources and energy policy practitioners.


Discovery and Development of Oxides as Contact Materials in SOECs through an Integrated Experimental and Computational Approach 

PIs: Brian Gorman (Materials Science, Mines) and Dave Ginley (Chief Scientist, NREL)

High Temperature Solid Oxide Electrochemical Cells (SOECs) for generating hydrogen from water offer a breakthrough potential for green hydrogen production with higher efficiency than any other currently scalable approach.

Much of the science behind materials selection for SOECs is empirical and based upon tradition ratherthan structure-property relationships. This is especially true for current collectors placed between the electrode and interconnect on the oxygen side where the default has been the use of precious metals especially Ag, Pt and Au. Over the long operation times of ~1000 hours (goal is >60000 hours) and harsh operating environment, these contacts significantly contribute to performance loss and early cell failure. This is due to a combination of elemental migration to interfaces and densification of the porous layer. We therefore propose integrating computational materials discovery and experimental verification approach to utilize oxides as a replacement for precious metal current collectors.


Electrochemical Direct Air Capture (DAC) utilizing earth abundant metal oxides 

PIs: Svitlana Pylypenko (Chemistry, Mines) and Danielle Henckel (Chemistry, NREL)

Time is of the essence when it comes to CO2 capture, sequestration and/or conversion. As such, the pursuit of fundamental adsorption processes and surface interactions that enable CO2 capture must be done in parallel with material integration and device development at scale. However, rarely does one have the opportunity to pursue parallel pathways to examine and define fundamental adsorption processes whilst improving TRL and affecting environmental change.

The Mines team has an extensive background in small-scale materials development, spectroscopy and characterization that will lead to methods to increase adsorption capacity and material robustness, while the NREL team are experts in catalyst layer design, electrode integration and device engineering that will help bring this technology to scale. Together this team proposes to develop a DAC strategy utilizing earth abundant metal oxides and electrochemistry.


A Carbon-Negative Structural Material Platform – Demonstrating Mechanical and Thermal Properties 

PIs: Paulo Tabares Velasco (Mechanical Engineering, Mines) and Paul Meyer (Chemical Engineering, NREL)

Our goal is to develop a chemistry platform for lignin bio-epoxies to replace cement (a material with high carbon emissions and embedded energy) with a low cost, sustainable, recyclable, and resilient material that also sequester carbon (lignin).


Plasmonic catalysis on metal oxides: toward ambient conversion of CO2 to liquids

Matthew Crane (Chemical and Biological Engineering, Mines) and Matt Beard (Materials Science, NREL)

The ability to readily convert CO2 to valuable feedstocks is critical to incentivize carbon capture and utilization and to offset the costs associated with the capture step. Such offsetting is especially needed in the costliest, yet most potentially impactful carbon capture scenario: direct air capture (DAC).

We envision that to realize DAC, relevant units could be distributed across “solar friendly” regions in the U.S. Solar power could then be exploited to achieve in-situ conversion of CO2 to liquids at ambient conditions, hence helping offset capture costs and maintain the “negative emissions” character of DAC. In this collaboration, we focus on generating the necessary mechanistic understanding to be able to exploit solar power to convert CO2 to liquid C1-C4 species, including methanol, using plasmonic catalysts.


AttackGen: Generative Synthesis of IoT Attacks in Cyber-Physical Systems

PIs: Dong Chen (Computer Science, Mines) and Dane Christensen (Cybersecurity Science & Simulation, NREL)

Cyberspace is expanding fast with the introduction of new Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) and Internet of Things
(IoT) devices. With IoT, wearables, smart watches, smart glasses, fitness trackers, medical devices, smart appliances and connected building equipment, distributed renewables, and electric vehicles have increasingly connected more end-users to the Internet and critical infrastructures. One effective way to defend against these IoT-based security challenges is to design and build proactive security measures by learning from the adversarial activity.

Therefore a simulated/emulated system representation can be used to generate synthetic representative datasets on which machine learning algorithms can be based. We plan to build on NREL’s preliminary work in this area.


Fundamental understanding of oxygen evolution through atomic control of thin film catalysts 

PIs: Megan Holtz (Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, Mines) and Mai-Anh Ha (Computational Sciences, NREL)

This proposed project will create foundational knowledge of the relations between surface atomic structure and reactions of water-splitting electrocatalyst s motivated by enabling low-cost hydrogen production with polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolysis.

The Mines/ NREL team combines fundamental material scientists with applied researchers and is uniquely positioned to overcome current barriers in understanding the complexities of catalyst surface structure and reaction pathways by using atomically controlled synthesis of thin films with molecular beam epitaxy (MBE), in conjunction with density functional theory, for mechanistic understanding.

Our vision is to create idealized crystal facets and chemistries spanning the relevant parameter space of these complex catalysts, understand how they behave with electrochemical characterization and reveal their reaction mechanisms with in-situ surface spectroscopy and density functional theory.

This fundamental understanding will enable the design of ideal electrocatalyst materials, which optimize cost and efficiency while minimizing consumption of precious metals.


An Occupancy Sensing Selection Platform for Occupancy-Driven Smart Building Applications 

PIs: Gabe Fierro (Computer Science, Mines) and Avijit Saha (Control Engineering, NREL)

We aim to design, implement and deploy a platform for collecting, analyzing occupancy data from arbitrary sensing technologies deployed across a variety of building environments. The proposed platform serves to systematically study the accuracy and efficacy of different sensing technologies and deployment strategies as they relate to occupant-driven control. This will permit robust cost-benefit analyses of the type and density of occupancy sensing technologies necessary to enact occupant-driven control strategies, allowing energy-saving strategies to be deployed more widely and more cost-effectively. Occupancy is a key prerequisite for implementing modern control strategies for intelligent buildings.

One of the most straightforward ways to reduce wasted energy and improve energy efficiency is to automatically regulate a building’s electricity usage in real-time based on its occupancy status. It can also drive a variety of novel building management optimizations.

In addition, the collection, analysis, and use of occupancy data and building contextual information from multiple heterogeneous sources will provide fundamental understanding and studies to support existing space, buildings, and communities in identifying economically viable and sustainable options to improve quality of occupant life.

Summer 2021 Seed Projects

Automated Mobility Platforms (AMPs) For Versatile, Energy Efficient Facility And District Scale Transport

Kevin Moore (Electrical Engineering, Mines) Stanley Young (Advanced Transportation & Urban Scientist, NREL)

Proposal: Automated Mobility Platforms (AMPs) for Versatile, Energy Efficient Facility and District Scale Transport

The Automated Mobility Platform (AMP) concept targets the ¼ mile to 2 miles trip length in large facilities or dense urban environments that are currently poorly served by existing modes.  Moving people in an around large-scale facilities and developments, whether indoor or outdoor, is an important yet unaddressed area in mobility. The proposed AMPs concept brings together expertise that does not fully exist at Mines or NREL independently. Mines brings to the project strong expertise in autonomous and automated vehicle systems concepts through PI Moore and with the faculty and students in the new Mines Robotics Program. NREL brings expertise in energy efficient transportation and mobility concepts through PI Young with significant experience with respect to Smart Cities, human mobility behavior, ride-hailing, micromobility, and curb efficiency, as well as experience with traditional modes such as moving walkways and automated people movers within large facilities.

Moore_image-for-webpage Mines/NREL Nexus Seed Grants

High-Performance Multi-functional Mass Timber Floor System with Reuse Demonstration

Paulo Cesar Tabares-Velasco, Mines and Chioke Harris, NREL

PIs: Paulo Tabares Velasco (Mechanical Engineer, Mines) and Chioke Harris (Model Engineering)

Proposal: High-Performance Multi-functional Mass Timber Floor System with Reuse Demonstration

This project will target two critical research opportunities related to mass timber construction—incorporation of multifunctionality into timber panels and reuse of mass timber materials at end of life.

This project will enable a new paradigm of multifunctional building systems combined with mass timber reuse. It has the potential to change the way in which we construct buildings using prefabricated techniques that integrate thermal storage and HVAC systems. This proposal complements efforts by NREL and industry to develop new mass timber assemblies and to consider end-of-life opportunities for mass timber to maximize CO2 sequestration. Our end-of-life approach could also create new job markets and economic opportunity for materials reuse. Insights from our study will help inform and define acceptable design rules for future work on dynamic materials integrated in mass timber construction. Mines and NREL are thus uniquely positioned for the success of the proposed project.

Paulo-image-for-web Mines/NREL Nexus Seed Grants

Electrocatalytic production of value-added products to increase efficiency of industrial processes and emissions abatement technologies

Stephanie Kwon, Mines and Kerry Rippy, NREL

PIs: Stephanie Kwon  (Chemical and Biological Engineering, Mines) and Kerry Rippy (Chemistry, NREL)

Proposal: Electrocatalytic production of value-added products to increase efficiency of industrial processes and emissions abatement technologies

Recent advances in harvesting clean electrons from renewable sources (e.g., wind and solar) have opened the possibility to use such electrons to convert thermodynamically stable molecules, such as CO2, N2, and CH4, to form add-valued products. Such strategies, combined with the thoughtful design and selection of catalysts and reactor systems, can bring renewable pathways to produce hydrocarbons, fuels, and NH3, from cheap and abundant molecules that are yet too stable to be easily converted. Here, we propose to use our combined expertise in catalysis (Kwon), electrochemistry (Rippy, Kwon), and industrial processes (Rippy, Vidal) to analyze and optimize electrocatalytic pathways toward production of valuable and clean products in industrial processes.

Kwon and Rippy are early career researchers and do not have a history of prior collaboration; Kwon only recently joined Mines in January 2020. This funding opportunity from NEXUS will act as a fuel to establish their strong collaboration by allowing them to  focus on proposal writing together this summer. This funding thus could mark the start of collaborative work between CSM and NREL for years to come.

NEXUS_Figure1-1 Mines/NREL Nexus Seed Grants

Towards a Polyolefin Plastic Circular Economy: Selective and Low Temperature Depolymerization of Polyolefins to Olefin Monomers Through Nanopore Confinement of Precious Metal-Free Catalysts

Mike McGuirk, Mines and Dan Ruddy, NREL

PIs: C. Michael McGuirk  (Chemistry, Mines) and Daniel Ruddy (Inorganic & Materials Chemist, NREL)

Proposal: Towards a Polyolefin Plastic Circular Economy: Selective and Low Temperature Depolymerization of Polyolefins to Olefin Monomers Through Nanopore Confinement of Precious Metal-Free Catalysts

A promising solution to the global plastic waste crisis is closed-loop chemical recycling, in which monomers are recovered from end-of-life plastics via an efficient chemical process. The recovered olefin monomers can then be repolymerized into virgin polymers using existing infrastructure or used as a feedstock in an array of chemical industries.

Our team proposes fundamental investigations, seeking to develop a precious metal and H2-free, low-temperature (i.e., <300 °C) catalytic process to selectively depolymerize polyolefin plastic waste to olefin monomers, enabled by nanopore-confined  heterogenous catalysts, namely established super acidic sulfated zirconia or alumina/zirconia-supported first-row transition metals.

The goal of establishing this funded collaboration is to intuitively develop the basis for chemical technologies that can provide sustainable chemical recycling solutions to the plastic waste crisis our world faces. The proposed team is uniquely positioned to advance this goal given the highly complementary capabilities and infrastructure in materials science (McGuirk), sustainable catalysis (McGuirk and Ruddy), and analytical chemistry (Ruddy), which allows for comprehensive expertise across the scientific spectrum necessary to develop the proposed systems and optimize their performance to tackle this real-world problem from the bottom up.

Picture1 Mines/NREL Nexus Seed Grants

Scalable Methodologies of Functionalized Porous Catalysts

Brian Trewyn, Mines and Frederick Baddour, NREL

PIs: Brian Trewyn (Chemistry, Mines) and Frederick Baddour (Chemistry, NREL)

Proposal: Scalable Methodologies of Functionalized Porous Catalysts

The impressive and unique capabilities of multifunctional catalysts have been demonstrated in the literature for decades. Some examples of these catalysts include MoC on ZSM-5 (MoC/ZSM-5) for the dehydroaromatization of methane, polyoxometalate-functionalized MgAl-layered double hydroxides for biomass upgrading reactions, and Fe functionalized zeolites for conversion of CO2 to aromatic hydrocarbons.1-3 Typically, these catalysts have a functionality introduced as part of the support framework (i.e., Lewis and BrØnsted acid sites in aluminosilicate zeolites) along with additional functionality incorporated on the surface post-synthetically. Additionally, high-performance materials synthesized via the tethering of organometallic catalysts with unique capabilities have emerged as a promising class of materials that combines a number of the operational benefits of homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis (Fig. 1). These materials possess the faster kinetics, higher yields and enhanced selectivity afforded by molecular catalysis, and the improved stability and recyclability imbued by tethering to a solid framework.

This project is optimally suited as a collaboration between Mines and NREL because it marries expertise in synthesis, characterization, and functionalization of porous organic and inorganic materials with the necessary expertise and manufacturing equipment necessary to translate research catalysts into technical catalysts. Outcomes of this seed funding are to develop large research, multi-PI proposals demonstrating capabilities to synthesize multifunctional porous catalysts at > 100 g quantities.

Asset-3-1-pdf Mines/NREL Nexus Seed Grants

Qubits by design: Novel transition-metal-impurity / semiconductor-host qubits via synergy between computations and experiments

Vladan Stevanovic, Mines and Brooks Tellekamp, NREL

PIs: Vladan Stevanovic (Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, Mines) and Brooks Tellekamp  (Materials Science, NREL)

Proposal: Qubits by design: Novel transition-metal-impurity / semiconductor-host qubits via synergy between computations and experiments

Our vision is to accelerate the development of novel (and improved) optically addressable semiconductor qubits, which are the basic units for quantum computing, through synergistic efforts within our Mines/NREL team. Our Mines/NREL team is uniquely positioned for the success of the proposed work because of the expertise in first-principles methods, in particular modern defect theory and calculations as well as approaches to material discovery and design (Mines), which will provide promising
candidates for experimental investigations. the NREL team has the expertise in functional materials synthesis, characterization, and device fabrication, which are essential for verification and realization of the computationally identified candidates. Additionally, the expertise of the NREL team will also be beneficial in establishing realistic experimental constraints and helping the Mines team further refine the computational discovery process for new semiconductor qubits.

The anticipated impact for the proposed research is to significantly progress toward the “quantum advantage”, promised by quantum computing, for material and chemical science research.

Stevanovic-image Mines/NREL Nexus Seed Grants

Improved Next-Generation Battery Models Using Operando Optical Diagnostics

Jason Porter, Mines and Andrew Colclasure, NREL

PIs: Jason Porter (Mechanical Engineering, Mines) and Andrew Colclasure (Mechanical Engineering)

Proposal: Improved Next-Generation Battery Models Using Operando Optical Diagnostics

The global transition to electrified transportation and renewable energy has dramatically increased the need for battery energy storage. While commercial lithium-ion batteries currently dominate energy and transportation markets, there are emerging needs for “beyond lithium ion” batteries. Dr. Andrew Colclasure is leading NREL’s efforts to expand NREL’s battery modeling capabilities beyond lithium-ion batteries, but they need better in situ measurement tools to capture complex battery behaviors and validate models. Mines Associate Professor, Jason Porter, has developed optical tools for in-situ battery measurements in a number of emerging battery chemistries, including lithium-sulfur batteries, sodium-ion batteries, and lithium-ion batteries under fast change and in extreme environments. In particular, Dr. Porter has developed a number of novel diagnostics ideally suited for use by NREL researchers to build next-generation battery models.

The combination of state-of-the-art battery modeling and operando experiments will facilitate interpretation of experimental findings and lead to new insights into complex chemistry occurring in next-generation batteries. This proposal will be highly competitive as it addresses a major challenge in battery development, understanding complex multiphysics and building accurate battery models, and proposes a novel approach bringing together a uniquely qualified team. The proposal is further strengthened by significant prior results from both NREL and Mines.

Porter-image Mines/NREL Nexus Seed Grants

Smart and Efficient technology Adoption using Machine Learning to achieve Equitable household Energy Savings (SEAMLES)

Greer Gosnell, Mines and Paty Romero Lankao, NREL

Mines PI: Greer Gosnell   NREL PI: Paty Romero Lankao

Proposal: Smart and Efficient technology Adoption using Machine Learning to achieve Equitable household Energy Savings (SEAMLES)

Our interdisciplinary approach will allow us to measure the energy efficiency gap (EEG) in marginalized communities, resolve critical uncertainty to improve investment decisions, and rigorously explore the potential of d “smart” and energy efficient (SEE) technologies to improve energy security and provide grid services to these communities.

image-for-website Mines/NREL Nexus Seed Grants

Older past seed grant projects are linked here.