12 UC Berkeley faculty members win grants for energy research

Siebel Energy Institute/Courtesy

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Twelve UC Berkeley faculty members won grants from the Siebel Energy Institute on Tuesday for projects that aim to improve the availability and efficiency of modern energy systems.

The institute awarded 24 grants totaling nearly $1 million to faculty from its eight research institutions — three universities abroad and five U.S. universities, including UC Berkeley. The grants, worth either $25,000 or $50,000, will fund preliminary research that may help secure larger grants later, according to S. Shankar Sastry, dean of the UC Berkeley College of Engineering and director of the institute.

“We want to take a chance on people dreaming big thoughts, (and) when people dream big thoughts, they might not have worked out all the details,” said Sastry, who noted that without preliminary research, these projects would be unlikely to receive larger grants from organizations such as the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, which typically require more concrete proposals.

Scott Moura, a campus civil and environmental engineering assistant professor, received funding for two separate projects: one that will explore the effects and applications of electric vehicles, and another that will create a national power-outage database to better understand the reliability of the electric grid.

Moura said that both projects had not been selected for larger grants in the past because of a lack of preliminary research but that with the help of the new grants, he is more confident his projects will be further funded. He said that the grants are “a huge assistance” and that he plans to reapply for a grant he was previously denied.

Though faculty from each of the institute’s member universities were encouraged to apply for the grants, Sastry said it was “gratifying” to see half of the grants go to projects in which Berkeley faculty are the lead researchers.

“In Berkeley, (smart energy) really resonates with a lot of different faculty,” Sastry said, adding that the grants went to departments “across the board … from all parts of our wonderful campus.”

Shmuel Oren, a campus professor of industrial engineering and operations research, received a grant for an interdisciplinary project that will create tools that can analyze high-performance metals in the electric grid. He said the institute has recognized the multidisciplinary nature of energy infrastructure by awarding grants to researchers in a variety of fields.

Moura said that the institute creates a network through which researchers can learn about similar or adjacent projects and that it “really helps us understand the innovations that other people have done.”

The institute was established by the Thomas and Stacey Siebel Foundation and officially launched with the announcement of the grants Tuesday. According to Sastry, the institute will also offer a funds-matching grant program within the next two years.

Contact Sally Littlefield at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @slittlefield3.