Nexus Seed Grant Program

Nexus Seed Funding Grants support innovative Mines and NREL researchers in jump-starting their collaborations into cutting edge interdisciplinary research proposals! The purpose of the seed proposals is to find eventual funds for a new joint project. Final Nexus seed projects may be submitted to a variety of funding agencies, including the DOE, DOD, NSF, state and local governments, consortiums, non-profits, private industry and more. 

The Mines/NREL Nexus partnership supplies funding for Mines and NREL researchers to development their proposal. The seed funding is intended to support the efforts of Mines and NREL PIs, with awards ranging from $10-15,000 each, to build a cohesive proposal that can then be submitted to calls for a range of funded projects.

Launched two years ago, the Mines/NREL Nexus is pleased to continue expanding on the program for Summer 2022.

All project summaries, since 2020, are available on this page, with the most current seed projects listed at the top. For more information, Principle Investigators websites are linked.

Contact us as with questions on the Seed Grant program.

nexus-logo_rgb_digital_600wide Mines/NREL Nexus Seed Grants

Seed Grant Projects

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NREL-campus-scaled Mines/NREL Nexus Seed Grants

NREL campus looking west towards Mines campus

Current Seed Projects (Awarded Summer 2022):

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.

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. 

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.



Past Seed Grant Projects – Summer 2021

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.

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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.

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Older past seed grant projects are linked here.