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Two Princeton teams, 19 researchers, set ambitious agendas for fuels and transportation

By Sharon Adarlo

electric cars charging

Providing clean energy to all while mitigating the impact on the environment is a huge task that requires deep, creative collaboration between top scientific, engineering, and policy experts working in multiple disciplines. To lay the groundwork to help solve this monumental challenge, the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University has announced the funding of two ambitious multi-investigator projects, totaling $600,000 and involving researchers from seven departments on campus.

Paul Chirik, the Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Chemistry, will lead a team of seven to explore ammonia as a carbon-neutral fuel alternative for transportation and residential use. Yiguang Ju, the Robert Porter Patterson Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and director of the Program in Sustainable Energy, will lead a team of 12 researchers to investigate the electrification of transportation as a pathway to a low-carbon society.

“Transportation and electricity production together cause about 56 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. It’s crucial that we reduce these numbers to meet the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, which calls for keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius. These two projects – funded by the Andlinger Center – help us towards those goals,” said Yueh-Lin (Lynn) Loo, director of the Andlinger Center.

Paul Chirik and Yiguang Ju
Paul Chirik (left) and Yiguang Ju (right)

“What is also noteworthy about these two projects is that they draw from the deep bench of expertise on energy technologies at Princeton University. Multiple departments with 19 researchers working on large-scale issues is exactly how you tackle the world’s energy and environmental challenges,” added Loo, the Theodora D. ’78 and William H. Walton III ’74 Professor in Engineering, and professor of chemical and biological engineering. “These challenges are complex and interlinked and require deep collaboration from a wide variety of experts who bring diverse viewpoints and backgrounds.”

Chirik’s team is exploring two experimental methods to generate ammonia that are projected to be more sustainable than current industrial processes, which rely on fossil fuels, and hence generate carbon dioxide emissions. Ammonia, not commonly thought of as a fuel, is a promising alternative to fossil fuels due to the large amount of energy stored in its chemical bonds and because it can be made from nitrogen, the most abundant gas in the Earth’s atmosphere. It can be used to fuel vehicles, power buildings, and to store energy produced by wind and solar power.

Switching the energy source of our transportation system from gasoline to renewable electricity has the potential to dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions in the country, but how the transition plays out will ultimately determine the degree of emission reductions and cost to consumers. In the electrification of transportation project, Ju’s team will investigate how this transition may work as a whole, while also addressing key technical hurdles, such as the integration of an electrified transportation system with renewable electricity production, and the use of hydrogen and natural gas. Researchers will also study the impact on electric grids, optimization for a smart transportation system and mobility, the development for a rapid charging infrastructure, and novel storage designs.

More on the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment

The mission of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment is to develop solutions to ensure our energy and environmental future. To this end, the center supports a vibrant and expanding program of research and teaching in the areas of sustainable energy-technology development, energy efficiency, and environmental protection and remediation. A chief goal of the center is to translate fundamental knowledge into practical solutions that enable sustainable energy production and the protection of the environment and global climate from energy-related anthropogenic change.