The Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will be home to one of 46 new multi-million-dollar Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) announced today by the White House in conjunction with a speech delivered by President Barack Obama at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences. The EFRCs, which will pursue advanced scientific research on energy, are being established by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science at universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations, and private firms across the nation.

The EFRC program will provide $19M to fund the Center for Excitonics, which will be directed by Marc A. Baldo, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and a principal investigator in RLE.

The RLE EFRC is one 16 to be funded by President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

As global energy demand grows over this century, there is an urgent need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and imported oil and curtail greenhouse gas emissions,” said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. “Meeting this challenge will require significant scientific advances. These Centers will mobilize the enormous talents and skills of our nation’s scientific workforce in pursuit of the breakthroughs that are essential to make alternative and renewable energy truly viable as large-scale replacements for fossil fuels.”

The 46 EFRCs, to be funded at $2–5 million per year each for a planned initial five-year period, were selected from a pool of some 260 applications received in response to a solicitation issued by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science in 2008. Selection was based on a rigorous merit review process utilizing outside panels composed of scientific experts.

EFRC researchers will take advantage of new capabilities in nanotechnology, high-intensity light sources, neutron scattering sources, supercomputing, and other advanced instrumentation, much of it developed with DOE Office of Science support over the past decade, in an effort to lay the scientific groundwork for fundamental advances in solar energy, biofuels, transportation, energy efficiency, electricity storage and transmission, clean coal and carbon capture and sequestration, and nuclear energy.

The new Center for Excitonics will be a comprehensive center on the science and applications of excitons. It will be based in RLE but include researchers throughout MIT, as well as Harvard University and Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Excitons are the crucial intermediate for energy transduction in low cost, disordered semiconductors. The Center’s researchers will tackle the following questions: How are excitons created and destroyed? How can we control the migration of excitons? How do they move through interfaces and around defects? How can we control the transition between coherence and incoherence, or localization and delocalization? And finally, how can we build excitonic devices that address society’s needs for a new generation of energy technologies? Potential technological outcomes from the Center’s activities include the development of efficient synthetic and room-temperature-reconfigurable light absorbing antennas with sub-5-nm feature sizes for solar cells; stable organic light emitting devices exploiting spin orbit coupling to achieve internal fluorescent efficiencies approaching 100%, and novel nanowire, nanowire heterostructure and nanowire-quantum dot aggregate materials for solid state lighting; and thin film, non-tracking solar concentrators with power efficiencies exceeding 30%.

Of the 46 EFRCs selected, 31 are led by universities, 12 by DOE National Laboratories, two by nonprofit organizations, and one by a corporate research laboratory. The criterion for providing an EFRC with Recovery Act funding was job creation. The EFRCs chosen for funding under the Recovery Act provide the most employment for postdoctoral associates, graduate students, undergraduates, and technical staff, in keeping with the Recovery Act’s objective to preserve and create jobs and promote economic recovery.

Related Links:

Center for Excitonics

DoE Energy Frontier Research Center Program

Professor Marc A. Baldo